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Jones adds police, outlines plan to improve downtown's image

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ST. LOUIS — Mayor Tishaura O. Jones on Tuesday announced a plan to curb months of mayhem downtown, adding police to discourage lawless behavior and touting concerts, performances and festivals to stimulate foot traffic and make visitors feel safe.

Jones, flanked by business and civic leaders at Kiener Plaza, said she was putting 30 more officers on weekend shifts downtown for the next five to six weeks. But she said that alone won’t fix things. Cultural events, she said, will help rebuild the perception of safety and encourage visitors to return.

“I see an idle downtown as a troublemakers’ paradise,” Jones said.

Interim Director of Public Safety Dan Isom says more officers and other resources will have increased visibility on weekends downtown over the next several weeks to combat crime.

Jones inherited a downtown long plagued by homelessness, office vacancies and a reputation for violence, and those issues haven’t let up since she took office in late April. The city has struggled this summer with homeless encampments, a barrage of shootings, and warnings that some major companies are looking to leave. Just Monday evening, a prospect for the St. Louis Blues was robbed on the Gateway Arch grounds. Business leaders have pressured the Jones administration to do more to help.

Tuesday’s event was an opportunity for the new administration to show it is working to turn the tide.

As part of the plan, Jones started a new downtown safety committee of city officials and business executives, including St. Louis Cardinals President Bill DeWitt III, Kwame Building Group CEO Tony Thompson, Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner chief Ryan Davis, and Stifel Nicolaus director Laura Radcliff. The committee will gauge progress and update the public on downtown issues and events.

Many downtown business leaders praised the effort.

“Today was the start of something,” said Starwood Group managing partner John Berglund, who developed Square’s new downtown offices, and will sit on the new safety committee.

Patrick Stanley, who owns a Washington Avenue cigar bar, said more police and more events sound good. “That’ll get the normal people out, no AK-47s,” he said.

David Meyer, president of Spoke Marketing, which has offices on Laclede’s Landing, said he’d love to see more police downtown, too. Many of his employees are still working remotely and the shootings downtown are a big reason why.

“The perception is that it isn’t safe,” he said.

There were concerns, though:

Meyer worried nighttime concerts on the Landing could lead to trouble.

Adolphus Pruitt, the president of the city’s NAACP chapter, said the city has to be careful the extra police aren’t used to push Black people out of downtown. “They want to go ballgames, clubs and restaurants downtown, just like everybody else,” he said.

And Les Sterman, the leader of a downtown citizens’ group, said no one should expect permanent improvement from a temporary surge in police and public events. It will take long-term commitment to making the area safer, more walkable and more inviting to residents and visitors alike, he said.

“You can’t fix downtown with a press conference,” he said.

Jason Hall, CEO of the regional business group Greater St. Louis Inc., pledged his organization’s support and noted sponsoring more events and concerts was a key recommendation from a new downtown strategic plan released last year. Greater St. Louis Inc.’s marketing arm, STLMade, is already helping to sponsor a new concert series — Jamo Presents’ “Lot on the Landing” — that begins Thursday on Laclede’s Landing. Lunchtime Live, a weekly food truck and live music event on the Old Post Office Plaza, restarts Wednesday.

More events are in the works. Dan Guenther, Benton Park alderman and chairman of the board’s Convention and Tourism Committee, said he will take an active role planning and promoting events downtown. He represents artists on Cherokee Street, who he said could benefit from space to perform or showcase their work downtown.

“More foot traffic, more eyes on the street always reduces problems,” Guenther said.

The extra 30 officers will mostly be reassigned from citywide units such as problem properties and the mobile reserve that focuses on pockets of crime throughout the city. Others could be working overtime, the mayor’s office said.

They’ll be deployed from Friday evening through Sunday and add to the 25 bicycle and foot patrol officers stationed downtown, as well as the regular patrols from the department’s 4th District, which stretches from downtown to the Hyde Park neighborhood and west to Grand Center. St. Louis interim Public Safety Director Dan Isom said the extra officers will both patrol and be stationed in certain areas, including hot spots such as Kiener Plaza and CityGarden.

Isom said police will attempt to better enforce park curfews, expired tags, parking and traffic violations in addition to responding to trouble.

Increased patrols began this weekend, when the ”Ride of the Century” motorcyclists converged on St. Louis, Isom said, and the department is coordinating with private security at office buildings.

The department will reexamine the new policy in about six weeks.

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Austin Huguelet is the Post-Dispatch's City Hall reporter. He previously covered business for the Post-Dispatch and state politics for the Springfield News-Leader.

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