Martin Heuser opened his German restaurant, a classy white-tablecloth place called Affare, in the heart of the Crossroads Arts District at 1911 Main St. last May.
By KEVIN COLLISON
The Kansas City Star
It wasnt long before thieves found the poorly lit, leased parking lot at 19th and Walnut streets used by his customers and staff.
There have been six car break-ins since October, three within the last two weeks. Four of the cars belonged to employees, including his wife; the two others were customers.
Its very bad for my customers, Heuser said last week. They came down here all the way from Overland Park and had a great experience with the restaurant and then they found out $200 to $300 in goods were stolen from their cars.
Heuser is not alone.
Merchants, residents and visitors in the Crossroads Arts District have been hit by a rash of burglaries and other property crimes, and there was even an armed robbery recently at a coffee shop on Southwest Boulevard.
Its got the Crossroads Community Association launching a new anti-crime initiative and making a final push to create a long-discussed community improvement district.
People are nervous, said Suzie Aron, president of the association.
Shes working with Bill Steeb, a Crossroads resident for seven years, to push the community improvement district effort.
Bordered on the south by Crown Center, which has its own security, and the north by the central business district and River Market, which have community improvement districts staffed by workers in their distinctive yellow jackets, the Crossroads is the odd man out.
Steeb said a cop once told him it wasnt necessary to have every security measure at your house, it was just important your place was a more difficult target than your neighbors.
Right now, the Crossroads is the easiest house to get into because we dont have a CID, Steeb said.
The problem, though it has flared recently, isnt new. In 2007, I wrote a column about the sheer audacity of burglars in the Crossroads area who broke into newly renovated office buildings to steal flat-screen TVs and computers.
Last week, while having lunch with Aron at Affare, not a single patrol car came by on Main Street during the hour we were there.
People are saying, Where are the police? Aron said. We have very little police presence. Sometimes they come in 5 minutes and other times you call and its 3 hours later. Its really an all-city question.
In late January, 45 people showed up at a Crossroads meeting with just two days notice to vent their unhappiness about the crime problem.
The next day, the Police Department had three mounted officers ride their horses through the Crossroads in a show of force.
The Kansas City Police Department seems to embrace all kinds of technology, including three helicopters bought for $8.6 million last fall, but the old-fashioned idea of being a visible deterrent doesnt seem to be in the playbook.
Aron, Steeb and Heuser all agreed the police officer assigned to be the liaison for the Crossroads, Sgt. James Schrieber, is a good guy and empathetic, but the problems remain. Efforts to reach Schrieber for comment were unsuccessful.
So now the Crossroads folks have started their own grassroots anti-crime effort anchored on the slogan Put Your Junk in Your Trunk.
Signs with that advice about locking valuables in the trunk as a deterrent to break-ins are expected to be going up soon. Merchants also are being encouraged to install cameras to monitor parking lots and alleys, and also better lighting.
And an anti-graffiti campaign intended to remove all tags within 24 hours is planned.
All of this is leading up to the final push for establishing a community improvement district using the boundaries for the city established for the Crossroads: from the Kansas City Terminal railroad tracks on the south to the Interstate 670 trench on the north, between I-35 on the west to Troost Avenue on the east.
As opposed to the community improvement districts established elsewhere in the city, the Crossroads is proposing a district lite with an annual budget of about $500,000.
It would have only one paid staffer, and additional help would be contracted as needed, mostly for security. Steeb said the Crossroads doesnt need the daily cleaning such as that provided downtown by the yellow-jackets, although he does acknowledge those maintenance people add to the eyes and ears on the street.
Rather, merchants and others will be encouraged to call a central number or use social media if they sense trouble.
Security is our No. 1 issue like everywhere else, but we plan to approach it differently, Steeb said.
We plan to identify hot spots where crime is occurring such as car break-ins. When we see these things happening, well put people on the street.
Because the proposed Crossroads improvement district doesnt call for a lot of personnel or overhead, it will be much less expensive for property owners and businesses than the one in the central business district.
A simple fee system is being proposed: $550 per year for properties smaller than 10,000 square feet; $950 per year for those larger than that; and $250 per year for parking lots or vacant lots.
Aron and Steeb said a survey was being circulated to gauge interest, and if enough people are behind it, a formal petition drive will start in a couple of months.
Its a two-tier process to assure big owners dont dominate the process and vice versa. You must obtain 51 percent of the people or entities who own properties, and 51 percent of properties based on assessed value. There are 750 properties in the Crossroads.
Heuser said the idea of establishing a community improvement district coupled with a common-sense advertising campaign that warns people to keep their valuables in their trunks is long overdue.
Its so simple, he said. I already do it.
When our people go out for a smoke, they see people looking inside car windows to see if anything is there. Its a very simple but effective method to avoid break-ins.