Monday, March 9, 2015

Corktown club owners react to Deadline Detroit's car theft frenzy

Posted By on Mon, Mar 9, 2015 at 2:20 PM

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It sucks eggs when your car is broken into. And it sucks even worse when the car is then taken for a joy-ride and vandalized. That's what happened to a buddy of Deadline Detroit's Allan Lengel — the original post is from over one week ago, which is what, ten years in Internet time?  In case you've forgotten already, Lengel's piece caused quite a stir. It was written in a style that rankled many who read it. The blog post was covered in multiple venues, and Lengel himself claims that it's even led to possible changes in policy going forward. Lengel would have you believe that Corktown is overhyped, lawless, and populated with indifferent business owners who've lured the suburbanites to their dens of... long waits, in order that their cars may be fucked with. 

However, the numbers point to a city that's much safer, with actually far fewer car thefts, everywhere in town. And Corktown is certainly no less safe than anywhere else. Again, not to in any way belittle the experience of car theft. But the actual numbers give one reason to rejoice, not to cower, or foment.


MT staffer Ryan Felton created this map of area car break-ins using public information of reported thefts that took place last weekend into Wednesday. Four thefts are reported within the area generally defined as Corktown. And similarly, four vehicle thefts took place in an area bounded by Dexter, Fenkell, Livernois, and Lyndon. 

We spoke with three business owners in the area with a representative sampling of parking situations: Dave Kwiatkowski (Sugar House), whose bar has no parking lot;
Paul 'PJ' Ryder (PJ's Lager House), whose club/ bar has a lot which doesn't have a full-time attendant but does provide security; and Andrew Mohr (Two James Spirits), whose establishment has a lit and staffed on-site lot. Kwiatkowski was spoken with on the phone last Tuesday, and his comments were sort of shoehorned into these questions, which were actually asked via email of Mohr (who replied last Wednesday) and Ryder (who got back to us on Thursday).

Metro Times: Has the Deadline Detroit blog post been the topic of conversation since it was first published three or so days ago, in your world? In what way?
Dave Kwiatkowski (Sugar House): Yes, people have been talking about this, for days now. I take issue because the only thing I see is that it's such a negative piece, sensationalism for the sake of clicks. They write pure vitriol, most of the time it's grave dancing, negative information about the city. I also take issue with the fact that the piece was poorly written and wasn't objective. And that's fine; that seems to be their model. It definitely seems like they're out of touch, older suburbanites, writing about Detroit.
Paul 'PJ' Ryder (PJ's Lager House): Yes the article in Deadline Detroit has been discussed at PJ's among friends and customers. Mostly of the sort, "Cars get stolen or broken into in Detroit? Wow, that's news to me." (Please add your own degree of sarcasm).
Andrew Mohr (Two James Spirits): The safety of our employees and patrons is always a topic of conversation for us. The article has generated some additional dialogue, which is good. But Two James Spirits, the Corktown Business Association, and our fellow business owners are always striving to ensure that people who come down to our establishments have an enjoyable and safe experience at every point of their visit, from start to finish.

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MT
: My understanding is that, from the bagel place on down to Slow's, literally every restaurant on that strip has secure, lit parking. Is this not the case?
Kwiatkowski: There are safe options available, in every pocket of every neighborhood. There is an attended lot behind Mercury that is $3 to pay in. and there is a lot next to Gaelic that I believe is $5. There is no lack of interest on the part of the business owners.
Mohr: We can speak for our business best and say that we have a secure, well-lit parking lot that is watched and monitored by a member of our security staff from the late afternoon until we close for the night. I know many of our fellow business owners in the neighborhood also have secured, well-lit parking.
Ryder: I do not know if every business has lighted secure parking, but I know that PJ's has installed lights, a half dozen cameras and related equipment and pay to have security in the lots surrounding PJ's, which PJ's does not own. Detroit Institute of Bagels, Brooklyn Local 1266 and a local Detroit builder, Bruce Beresh, all allow us to use their lots. We appreciate their help and in turn we try to keep our little area of Corktown secure and safe. We have a person in a car in the lots every night until most everybody goes home. We also work with the Detroit Police. Officer Theut will stop in to review our video tape if there is an incident that he's trying to pin down. That type of attention was not present as recently as two years ago.
Kwiatkowski: I resent the idea that we are not doing things to address the problem, because we are. We used to have paid security but the criminals are really smart, and they would hide out and would wait for the security guard to go around the block and then hit the cars at that split second.

MT: What is missing from the Deadline piece? 
Ryder: Much of what was missing in the initial article were corrected by subsequent articles. The Corktown Business Association is working with DPD and others to get as much as we can with the resources that we have. Business owners do what they can, but their resources are limited. When you walk around the Corktown area, it feels safe. There are lights, though we are still waiting for the completion on some of the feeder streets and main thoroughfares, like Michigan Ave. We want people to feel safe and be safe.
Mohr: I don't think any story can present all the complexities and dynamics of a single evening, neighborhood or city. The story is a firsthand account of individuals who made the trip down to Corktown to have an enjoyable night who ultimately did not have a good experience. However, Two James Spirits and our fellow business owners in Corktown are dedicated and committed to making sure the people who support our businesses have an enjoyable and safe experience. There will always be car theft, break-ins and other crime, it is a city, but we make every effort to ensure that these incidents are not the norm and happen less and less frequently.
Kwiatkowski : Car theft and break-ins — this is definitely an issue in downtown, as I suspect they are in every major city. As more and more people are coming to Detroit it is more of a problem. This is a really difficult challenge. I had my car stolen out the back of my apartment in Corktown, myself. But this isn't a unique Detroit problem. A legitimate gripe was that the police didn't come out to take a report. I get that that sucks. I've had to do that myself and I hate it. But it is what it is. I wish the police had more officers and could be paid more. I don't think it's a lack of effort on their end. We're in a shrinking city and they can't send someone out to every car break-in or theft.

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MT
: No one thinks it's super easy to park in or around Corktown, especially during peak hours. Everyone knows there are break-ins sometimes. What would you like to see changed, going forward? What would an ideal situation be, especially going forward with all the new development slated?
Ryder: Going forward, Corktown is looking to further development, additional people moving in and a safe, walkable neighborhood. The Tiger Stadium redevelopment will make a huge change in our neighborhood. I would love to see MDOT reduce the size of Michigan Ave. Expand sidewalk restaurant all along Michigan Ave. Run a street car or rapid transit all the way out to Ann Arbor. Re-develop some of Corktown's empty lots in parking areas connected by local shuttles. The train Station redeveloped as a housing, shopping, theater area with parking and connecting train service to Toledo and Chicago. The thing about Detroit is that it is still a great, big city, but it is not so cemented in its ways that new possibilities are endless. It will not happen overnight or in a few months. This re-birth of Detroit as a viable and vibrant place is taking place right now. The question is can can we make this re-birth into a long,happy life.
Kwiatkowski: The real problem is that we're right near the highway, so these guys can hit a car and be gone on the highway and nobody knows. It's a geographical thing coupled with the bad guys seeing an opportunity. We are on a street with no lot, ourselves, just the street parking. So we need to let our customers know to not park in compromised areas, and we do. We have signs that read, right on Wabash there are signs that say Warning: High Break-In Area," posted very visibly.
Mohr: The ideal situation will be the continued development of the Corktown neighborhood, with a wide array of new businesses, secured parking, affordable housing and more people. Two James Spirits and the businesses of Corktown, along with the Corktown Business Association, are fully committed to the continued evolution and growth of the neighborhood that embraces new ideas and viewpoints that contribute to Corktown being a safe and enjoyable place to live and visit. More public transportation and transit development focused on connecting the main business sectors, neighborhoods and surrounding communities would also be extremely beneficial for the city and region.

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MT
: Anything at all you'd like to add? 
Mohr: The only thing we would like to add is our personal experience of the unbelievable support we have experienced by patrons who come down to our tasting room. We are very thankful for our patrons and we could not do what we do without the support of our tasting room visitors and regulars. We strive and take every effort to make their experience memorable, fun and safe. The businesses of Corktown are a close community, very much engaged and proactive in making the neighborhood not only unique and vibrant, but safe. The story presents an unfortunate experience, but we are excited to contribute and be a part of the efforts to ensure stories like this are not repeated and not the norm. We love Corktown and Detroit and we are very excited for the future of the neighborhood and city!
Kwiatkowski: Blaming us is totally absurd. We don't want our customers' cars broken into, and no one does.

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