Tower District businesses banding together against crime

FRESNO, Calif.

For the first time, Tuesday evening, about 50 merchants with the newly-formed Tower District Business Network (TDBN) will meet to come up with ways to promote, protect and preserve the vital and historic area.

TDBN organizers said the group will work together as a coalition to return the Tower District to a main destination point for people from all walks of life. To accomplish that goal, TDBN has set short term and long term goals to address the issues and improvements needed to revitalize the neighborhood.

"There's a massive effort going on in the Tower District as a whole to combat crime and they (residents) formed a Neighborhood Watch," said Free Bird Company owner Linda Whisenant, who's heading up the effort. "We thought why don't' we come up with a Business Watch to compliment that group and expand it to focus more on the businesses."

Whisenant said TDBN will collaborate with the Fresno Police Department, Code Enforcement, the District Attorney's Office and local media to create a proactive plan of action to deter criminals, push the bad elements out and effectively prosecute those who commit offenses in the Central Tower District.

"What we'd like to have is a comprehensive database that gives us information on every business owner and how to contact them in case of emergency," she said. "So we can get the information out in real time and we can all be on the lookout if there is a problem or help the police in finding somebody. We'll all know instantly what's going on."

Whisenant said the Watch Group's responsibilities would include actively patrolling and reporting illegal activity to the police department as well as fellow businesses. She said a communications team is already in place to inform others via text message, email or phone calls when an incident occurs. Now the focus is on forming a committee to work with Code Enforcement. The committee would develop and post ordinances such as No Loitering, No Vagrancy and No Soliciting to give police officers an enforceable method to use against panhandlers, transients and others that deter potential customers from visiting the Tower.

"We've also set up a private Facebook page that just the business owners have access to so we can put pictures up and detailed information on certain criminal activity or people targeting this area so we are all familiar with their faces," she added.

The group will also create a Directory Brochure with a detailed map and business listings to help visitors navigate the area. It will also include helpful information such as the locations of ATM's, bus stops, bike racks and pay phones. In addition, the directory will be distributed to area hotels, travel agencies, airports, Amtrak stations and other tourist-related locations that potential customers may frequent.

"The idea is to band together, to work together as a coalition to market the Tower District and bring people to the Tower District," said Pinot Wine Bar & Bistro owner Daniel Renteria. "A lot of people don't know there's a lot of historic sites here. The Tower Theater has been here since 1939, there's beautiful neighborhoods."

A matching interactive website will be created so consumers can learn more about what the Tower District has to offer and social media will help promote activities including clubs shows, theater productions, store sales, restaurant specials and events. Big plans businesses hope to hope to tackle by working together.

"I grew up in the Tower District, I've been here about 45 years. I love the Tower. I have a passion for the Tower, I want to see it thrive," said Renteria.

As a unified network, these small businesses believe they can accomplish their goals that no one individual, business or agency can manage on their own.

"Not just crime," said Whisenant. "Other issues as well. We just decided to sit down and see what we could do about it."

Whisenant said a private Facebook page is already improving communication amongst its members and is giving them an opportunity to interact. Users can now post pictures of shoplifters, robbery suspects, hot spots that need cleanup, graffiti removal or other attention. Business owners can also share tips on social media use, crime prevention as well as remind each other of important dates on a calendar of events.

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