Businesses pledge to help fund security downtown

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Downtown business owners have tentatively agreed to lend financial support for additional security in downtown Cape Girardeau.

The agreement came after an offer by the Southeast Missourian of a $5,000 challenge grant designed to provide encouragement to other businesses to become part of the solution, according to Old Town Cape executive director Marla Mills.

"My understanding is that all of the businesses at the Old Town Cape meeting on Tuesday offered to contribute in some capacity. That's a great start," said Southeast Missourian publisher Jon K. Rust.

The meeting, facilitated by Old Town Cape, unofficially laid to rest a series of ongoing negotiations between city officials, Old Town Cape and area business owners.

The negotiations concerned an April request for added security, via either the Cape Girardeau Police Department or a private security company to patrol the downtown area during the hours bars operate on weekends.

The request came after a meeting in which complaints were made by several businesses owners about recent property damage, and concerns were expressed about the influx of crowds in the downtown area on weekends.

Police chief Carl Kinnison attended the meeting and fielded questions about staffing and service issues, explaining that patrol officers currently pursue the downtown area nightly as often as possible.

"I think there was a general understanding that we're doing all we can do," said Kinnison Wednesday.

Mills said she saw a recognition among business owners that police were already providing an enhanced level of service in the downtown area.

Old Town Cape organized committees, made up of business owners and Old Town Cape representatives, to explore options for security, including overtime usage for city officers, and contracting with a private security firm.

The police department exceeds its allotted overtime hours nearly every year. The budget, with an approximate expenditure in 2006 of $190,000, would need added compensation to accommodate the number of extra hours police would have to patrol, said Kinnison in previous interviews.

Mayor Jay Knudtson made an earlier promise that half of a projected $20,000 to $30,000 could be covered by city coffers, but that he'd like to see a partnership among business owners make up the difference.

The Southeast Missourian's offer involves a $5,000 donation contingent on other businesses raising enough money to match the amount by Nov. 1, said Rust.

The same amount will be provided over the next two years, for a total gift of $15,000, if commitments are made to reach the same amount in 2008 and 2009.

The grant was offered with the knowledge that the enhanced services will not extend far enough up Broadway to cover the Southeast Missourian, Mills said.

"You could definitely see a light bulb go off, that someone not even affected by this was willing to participate," said Mills.

Following the offer, a show of hands indicated that the majority of business owners would support the security project, according to Mills.

"Riverfront merchants and Old Town Cape have made a compelling case for the importance of preventive security visibility during key times in downtown, and the city has been innovative in offering additional assistance with limited resources," said Rust.

The increased vitality and patronage the downtown area has experienced in the past several years have made it a good idea to take a proactive approach to safety before problems arise, said Mills in a prepared statement.

"Only good things can come out of this," she said.

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