Avenue Merchants invite new focus on west-of-31st issues

       The Avenue Merchants organization, which formed in fall 2009 to promote business on Colorado Avenue west of 31st Street, is inviting public officials and entrepreneurs to join a walk of the area Friday, Feb. 4.
       Plans call for people to meet in the Walgreens parking lot at 2 p.m.
       The Avenue Merchants is an informal group of about 40 businesses and individuals.
       The idea is to spotlight the infrastructure needs of the area - which is sometimes known as “No Man's Land” - as well as certain criminal activities that are hurting business, according to interviews with Avenue Merchants founders/leaders Mike Crepeau and Robert Maez.
       “If you took care of the blight in the area, there would be a huge harvest of benefits,” Maez said. “The ultimate goal is to make this a comfortable environment for people who shop here.”
       For the meeting, Crepeau said, “we hope to bring different businesses out to meet officials and talk about the things they face on a day-to-day basis.”
       As examples, he mentioned “behavioral issues,” typically involving groups of young men, possibly from motels farther west, who get drunk, trespass, fight, and beg from business customers. “Yesterday [Jan. 18] there were three who very hostile,” Crepeau related. “They threatened the guy with a sign outside Domino's [at 33rd Street and Colorado Avenue], then they started seeing how to get into the house next door. This was at 12:30 in the afternoon. These issues are becoming a nuisance for our business development down here.”
       The first large public meeting by Avenue Merchants (Sept. 29, 2009) attracted the city police chief, fire officials, City Council members, a state legislator, community and social service leaders, business people and other citizens. Follow-up meetings in ensuing months helped develop strategies for improving the area.
       However, a local grant request to add sidewalks and streetlights, upgrade storm sewers and utilities and replace the Adams Crossing bridge was denied by the federal government. And, while Crepeau expressed appreciation for work since fall 2009 by county sheriff's deputies and police officials - including Metro VNI efforts on some vice issues and a virtual elimination of the transient camping situation - he acknowledged that public law enforcement can't be there all the time. That's why Avenue Merchants members are now considering pooling their funds to hire a private security firm to supplement such efforts in the future.
       Maez described that as a temporary fix “until we can get it under control.” He doesn't want private officers to be heavy-handed. He envisions them as “getting to know people” and helping the situation by their presence.
       But in the long term, No Man's Land progress will also require support from civic and business leaders. “If we can get local government officials to recognize the issues and if we can get the merchants more organized, we can make it better, day by day,” Crepeau said. “I think we're headed in the right direction.”

Westside Pioneer article