ST. LOUIS • Washington Avenue's entertainment district became a success faster than anyone expected, business owner Tony Thompson told the about 200 people at Christ Church Cathedral for the Downtown St. Louis Residents Association's annual town hall meeting Tuesday.
The increased crime in the now-popular district was inevitable, he said.
"We're a victim of our own success," said Thompson, owner of the Kwame Building Group, based at 1204 Washington Avenue. "We have created what we said we wanted."
But the onus is on residents and business owners to put safeguards in place in the district, home to various restaurants, bars and residential lofts.
The meeting came as city officials are at work on ways to curtail increased noise and criminal activity in the area, mostly on Washington between 10th and 14th streets. All this month, the city has limited vehicle traffic on weekends by closing off streets, and excluded those under 21 from partaking in the late-night bar scene.
Lt. Col. Larry O'Toole said St. Louis police are working to alter their approach to handling crime in the neighborhood and will try different tactics in the coming weeks. He said private businesses have added 18 security workers since the beginning of the month to add to the increased security presence.
Residents queried city leaders in attendance — including the mayor and the four aldermen whose wards surround or encompass the area — mostly about problems plaguing Washington and issues with nearby Lucas Park, where the homeless and residents have been known to clash.
"We're not going to tolerate disruptive or inappropriate behavior," Mayor Francis Slay told attendees. "This is a partnership. We all have a role to play, and we all want the same thing: for this to be a strong neighborhood and for it to get stronger."
Officials played video clips and showed photos of motorcyclists revving their engines, cars blaring music and fights that reportedly took place in the area.
Matt O'Leary with Friends of Lucas Park, at 13th Street and St. Charles Street, announced coming renovations for the park, which will include closing it in August for construction and reopening it in the spring with a new kids area, among other things.
"We're not trying to run the homeless away from the park," O'Leary said. "We're just trying to make it better."
The park is seen as a nuisance by some residents because of the homeless who often congregate there. Residents at the meeting complained of finding human feces and loads of trash in and around the park.
City officials said portable bathrooms and hand-washing stations have been set out in the area to curtail some of the public sanitation issues.
O'Toole said growth will continue in the district, citing the new Mississippi River bridge that's under construction and likely to bring even more people downtown. The problems will only get larger if they're not dealt with now, he said.
"This is what we wanted," O'Toole said about the area's continued growth. "Congratulations. Now, it's time to start planning."