The Macon City Council’s Public Properties Committee voted Tuesday to return the benches in front of the Dempsey Apartments, which had been removed by the city at the request of the property owner because of concerns about illegal activity and loitering.
The benches resolution must still go before the full council for a vote where it is expected to pass. If it does, the resolution would require the replacement of the benches within 10 days of its enactment.
“I’m disappointed,” said property manager Erica Love of the Barkan Management Co. “I hope to work with them to put the benches in a good place for everyone. We want to do everything in our power to make a safe environment for all of our residents.”
The issue drew a crowd that quickly filled up the council conference room, spilling into the hallway.
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Business owners in attendance said the bench removal made their customers feel safer. They said they fear an already difficult economic climate will be made worse by replacing the benches.
“I’m not a big fan of the benches,” Wes Griffith, co-owner of The Rookery, said after the meeting. “I’d be fine with the benches if there was enough of a police presence. If Cherry Street was properly policed, it might be nice to have them there.”
Among the advocates for the benches to be returned is former City Council President Anita Ponder, who has used her morning talk radio program to push the issue. She said she was proud of the turnout and happy with the end result.
In regards to the call for more police, she added, “That has been our simultaneous message from the beginning. I want downtown to succeed, not just the space in front of the Dempsey.”
Only Margaret Carroll responded to Councilman Erick Erickson’s request that Dempsey residents identify themselves in the meeting. She opposed the return of the benches, claiming drug deals and other salacious behavior made the benches virtually impossible for “the good residents” to use.
While advocates said Dempsey residents need the benches, Love noted that Dempsey residents can use the two benches and the sofas inside the lobby if they want to rest while waiting on a ride. An atrium on the apartment building’s second floor is available if they want the experience of being outside.
A regular visitor to the Dempsey, Sarah Mincey Hunt made a passionate plea for the benches’ return. She addressed crime, telling the committee she recently sat in her car for three hours on consecutive days without seeing a single police officer on patrol.
“You can’t remove benches to stop crime. The police have got to do their duty,” she said.
No representative from the Macon Police Department attended the meeting. Keith Moffett, director of internal affairs for the mayor’s office, said he had not spoken to anyone in the department about the issue.
There was some question about why the council needed to legislate the placement of benches, but in the end, the decision was made to pass the measure because the mayor said he would go in the direction council wanted.
It was clear the committee wanted to replace the benches but seemed concerned with the numerous reports of crime happening in the open. “I’ve seen drug dealers stand up to sell drugs,” Councilman Tom Ellington said. “We need to get the police down there.”