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City to remove benches in effort to reduce loitering

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A plan to beautify parts of Downtown Austin may be doing just the opposite. The city is now removing some of it at the request of police.

Each afternoon, co-workers Vicenta Mayorga and Elena Faz spend their break sitting on the benches at the corner of 6th and Brazos.

"I love them. I love the outdoors," said Faz.

The city added the benches last year as part of the downtown great streets master plan.

The Brazos Street part of the project--consisting of new sidewalks, benches and planters--cost $11 million.

While the benches serve the intended purpose during the day, officers say at night the benches draw in the wrong crowd.

Last month, in the exact spot where the ladies were sitting, two homeless men got into a fight.

One stabbed the other with a knife.

"We've just had a lot of public nuisance," APD Commander Troy Gay said.

Commander Troy Gay says the cause of all the trouble seems to point back to the same thing.

"It seemed there weren't benches there before. There wasn't a problem before. The benches were installed and we've created a little bit more of a challenge there for our department," Gay said.

The owner of the Littlefield Market on the southwest corner of 6th and Brazos says he has lost $100 dollars a day since the benches were added. He says the additional homeless people who sit on them frequently steal and scare off potential customers.

Because of those complaints, Gay requested the city remove some of the benches.

"By reducing a number of benches hopefully we'll be able to manage that and enforce that area a little bit more," Gay said.

All five around the Littlefield Market will soon be gone and two more across the street by the Cap Metro bus stop.

"We are just temporarily going to look at this for six months to see if it has the desired outcome that we all want and that is to have enough place for people to rest but to also reduce some of the loitering and complaints," Gay said.

The benches aren't the only problem with the new streetscape.

The city has had to install metal balls on the sides of the planters to keep skateboarders away.

In the planters are electrical outlets. The police department has requested that Austin Energy put locks on all of them. Part of the reason why people are gathering down there is for the free electricity.

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