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Business owners petition to remove downtown benches

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For more than two decades, "Wild About Music" gift shop has been located in the downtown area.

"We're here for the visitors and tourists and Austinites that love music so being downtown is really important to us," Wild About Music Co-owner Shelley Meyer said.

Meyer says the shop has never dealt with any major problems as part of being an urban retailer until recently.

"They are openly consuming alcohol, doing drugs, selling drugs," she said.

She's talking about the people that often hang out on the benches around the corner from the shop along Brazos near 6th Street.

"We really want to point out that this is not a homeless issue, there is a criminal element that's there," Meyer said.

The benches and planters were installed as part of an $11 million City of Austin plan to beautify Brazos, but Meyer says that plan backfired. She and the other owner of the shop have started a petition to have the benches removed.

"It's become an encampment for this criminal element"

Police admit the area is a hub for criminal activity.

"We've had calls in the 500, 600 block of Brazos for prostitution. We've had calls for drugs, people urinating, defecating, you name it right in that area. It's definitely a problem area for us and we're focusing on it," said Austin Police Department Commander Jason Dusterhoft.

Last year Austin police asked the City to remove half the benches and they say since then violent crime is down 36 percent in the downtown Area. They'll continue to try to tackle the criminal activity on that corner, but with limited resources there's only so much they can do.

"When they're (business owners) calling us on a daily basis about the same problem over and over we definitely do take those concerns seriously," Dusterhoft said.

Members of the Downtown Austin Alliance and Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association are meeting with members of the City's Public Works Department about the benches. Austin Police say they have no plans to remove the benches at this point and that decision would be up to City of Austin officials.

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