Denver Ballpark Residents Name Drugs, Violence as Top Safety Concerns | Westword

"Open-Air Drug Market" and Homelessness Top Ballpark District Safety Concerns

Residents were happy with some of the mayor's policies during a recent town hall but brought up several glaring problems.
A family shares their neighborhood safety concerns with Denver Police Chief Ron Thomas and Chris Payne from the Ballpark General Improvement District during the latest Community Conversation town hall.
A family shares their neighborhood safety concerns with Denver Police Chief Ron Thomas and Chris Payne from the Ballpark General Improvement District during the latest Community Conversation town hall. Bennito L. Kelty
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Residents of the Ballpark neighborhood admitted to seeing improvement after Mayor Mike Johnston's House1000 initiative during a town hall meeting on Wednesday, May 8, but said they continue to deal with an open-air drug market and violent crime in their neighborhood.

"From what I heard, folks love the Ballpark neighborhood, Five Points. They want to make sure these communities are safe, strong," Darrell Watson, District 9 city councilman and the Ballpark District's representative, told Westword at the meeting. "Solving some of these sticky issues on safety, on the unhoused community, on violence, drug dealing — those things are going to be harder to solve, but we're committed to working together."

The town hall in the Ballpark District was the fifth in a series of town halls (dubbed "Community Conversations") that Johnston launched to gather input from residents as his administration pursues Citywide Goals 2024, a new initiative that aims to "build a Denver that is vibrant, affordable and safe for all," according to the mayor's office. Part of that plan — first labeled House1000 and now All In Mile High — includes moving thousands of homeless people out of encampments and into temporary housing.

Johnston was not at Wednesday's town hall because of a family emergency, his staff told the crowd. He's had to cancel planned appearances at several events during the past few weeks because of a family emergency, including a Community Conversation held in the Highland neighborhood on Tuesday, May 7.

Last night's town hall took place at Asterisk, an event venue at 1075 Park Avenue West. Between sixty to seventy residents attended last night's meeting, including about a dozen city officials and Councilman Watson. The Ballpark District is home to Denver's largest service providers for homeless residents as well as a mix of popular small businesses, offices, apartments, condos, homes and Coors Field; the district sits entirely in the Five Points neighborhood.

At one point it was the site of the largest encampment in Denver, according to the mayor's office, and the sweep of that encampment was the largest one of Johnston's House1000 initiative. Before the sweep, homelessness took a bite out of the revenues of businesses near 20th Street and Broadway, including the Mercury Cafe, Woods Boss Brewing and the British Bulldog. The Triangle Bar shut down in October, with owner Scott Coors blaming nearby homelessness and safety concerns.

Ballpark residents and people who work in the neighborhood are still concerned for their safety.

Kevin Tuohy, the general manager of the British Bulldog, at 2052 Stout Street, shared during Wednesday's town hall that he was stabbed in the neck three weeks ago.

Describing the incident to Westword after the meeting, Tuohy said he had caught a homeless person in the alley behind the Bulldog trying to break into the former Triangle Bar and "chasing people with weapons." Tuohy asked him to leave so patrons could pass, but the man returned at night. Upon being confronted again, "a scuffle ensued," and Tuohy was stabbed in the neck.

"I wasn't trying to hurt him, just trying to get him to leave, and he ended up getting me in the neck. I don't exactly know what he got me with, but something sharp enough to get through both my skin and my muscle," Tuohy recalls. "Luckily, I did not get any worse injuries. The doctors told me I should buy a lottery ticket."

According to Tuohy, the Denver District Attorney's Office told him the man couldn't be prosecuted because of "a provability issue," so his attacker is still seen walking around the business and hanging out with teens at Urban Peak. Tuohy worries that he could hurt someone else and wants more accountability from local prosecutors.

"At this meeting, we had the chief of police, chief of the fire department, the sheriff — not a single person from the district attorney's office, not a single person here to talk about crime and safety," he says. "I don't know if they think they're above this and they're doing their job very well, but I would say there are parts that have clearly fallen through the cracks that need to be remedied. It's frustrating for me to have to see the person that stabbed me walking the streets." 
click to enlarge A woman speaks at a town hall.
Anna DeRocchi, a city staffer from the Denver Agency on Human Rights and Community Partnerships, shares the concerns and compliments that Ballpark residents in her group had during the latest Community Conversations town hall.
Bennito L. Kelty

Johnston hosted similar events last year, with town halls in all 78 neighborhoods, but the mayor does less talking if he's able to make it. Instead, residents are asked to form groups with one city official in each group, and then list the city's pros and cons as it relates to specific topics. Currently, the mayor is hosting Community Conversations focused only on safety.

Several groups of residents told city officials, who then shared the comments with the entire town hall, that they want to see an end to the "open-air drug market" on 22nd Street between Lawrence and Arapahoe streets, near the Denver Rescue Mission.

Watson, who has lived in District 9 for thirty years, admits that "there has been a persistent open-air drug market" in that area.

"That is occurring. There are folks who are selling drugs on our streets," he says. "And folks are threatening business owners and residents that go by there. That has been happening."

There have been improvements in his district since he was elected last year, according to Watson, but he's not seeing much progress on issues with drug dealing out in the open near Arapahoe and Lawrence.

"Some of the persistent issues of the open drug dealing on 22nd, the fact that it has been so pernicious or hard to break, there has to be a marked effort between the District Attorney's office and [Denver Police] District 6 as well as the community to make sure open-air drug deals end," Watson said. "That was the one big issue that I'm not seeing much as far the change that community members and small businesses are needing." 

Other residents told city staffers that they didn't feel safe in their neighborhood, but some of those same residents say they're seeing improvements in the Ballpark District.

Positive comments from residents included praise for the success of Johnston's House1000 plan, with one group saying that it's "working great." Watson calls the plan "a step forward."

"We're not seeing folks on every other block overdose," he says. "We're not seeing the encampments where folks were simply kind of existing and didn't have the opportunity for housing stability. There's light at the end of the tunnel."

Residents also told city officials they're happy with how homelessness at Union Station, which is just outside the Ballpark District, has "markedly improved," as one group shared. One resident told city officials that he used to see homeless residents at every table or charging their phones at all the outlets, but he feels comfortable introducing his out-of-town friends to Union Station again. 

Jay Duke, who lives near Blake and 22nd streets, said while he's not happy with the perennial losing record of his favorite team, he's grateful that the Colorado Rockies have a security team around Coors Field that alleviates his concerns with crime in his neighborhood.

Watson praised Johnston for his effort with the Citywide Goals 2024 initiative and didn't fault him for missing the meeting, saying, "I don't question the mayor's commitment."

The concerns of the Ballpark District weren't as upsetting as those aired during a meeting last week on Denver's west side, where kids talked about seeing violence, drug use and nudity in their neighborhoods, but they were heavier than those relayed in Highland, where speeding on Speer Boulevard and residential streets was the number-one issue.
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