Published Friday, Nov. 15, 2013 | 2:51 p.m.
Updated Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013 | 3:23 p.m.
Huntridge Circle Park
The city closed Huntridge Circle Park seven years ago after a man was stabbed to death, the result of an argument over a broken sprinkler head.
Horrific as that was, the stabbing was but an exclamation point on a long series of issues that plagued the park since its reopening in 2004, after an award-winning, $1.5 million makeover.
By the time of the stabbing, neighbors with kids had mostly stopped using the park because its large swaths of grass and ample shade trees had become a respite from the sun for downtown’s large homeless population. Parents would walk through the park with strollers and be subjected to hear drunken catcalls, unwanted public exposures or the occasional use of a tree as a urinal.
More homeless flocked to the park when concerned residents started to feed homeless people in the park. In response, the city nationally embarrassed itself by enacting an ordinance making it illegal to feed the indigent. (The ban failed a court test, and the city rescinded it in 2010. New York and other cities, however, have since enacted bans on feeding the homeless.)
The city closed Circle Park for good in late 2006. Five years later, Bob Coffin, who lives near the park, was elected to the Las Vegas City Council and worked to get it reopened.
For two years, it was open on weekends. Then, about two weeks ago, around the same time that it opened a new playground in the park, the city opened it every day.
Kathleen Kahr D’Esposito, Huntridge Neighborhood Association president, said area residents already are starting to see people sitting in the park drinking liquor or beer concealed in brown paper bags. The catcalls to people walking through the park have begun.
And then there was a picture posted Monday on Facebook by a neighbor.
Clark Beltran was at the park with his niece, who was taking snapshots for a photography class, when she captured a disturbing image. It is of a woman, pants to her knees, squatting in preparation to use an area by a wall near the playground as a toilet.
Public bathrooms are located in the park a few hundred feet away.
Neighbors online reacted quickly, suggesting a bicycle-driven neighborhood watch and knocking down walls to eliminate places for people to duck behind.
Kahr D’Esposito said she is already moving to get the city to designate a park ambassador to Circle Park.
A volunteer program, park ambassadors serve nine of the city’s largest parks, according to the city’s website.
Ambassadors “make sure the park is safe,” the website says, act as greeters, bond with park regulars and promote upcoming city programs.
Coffin said it’s a good idea. “We’re going to start it” in Circle Park, he said.
He said that he is “not going to let anything shut this park down again.”
“That means we just have to increase our presence in the park with ambassadors and frequent drive-bys by city marshals,” he said.
When shown the photograph captured by the neighbor, Coffin said the person “must have been pretty desperate.” He said that if the picture was taken early in the morning on Veterans Day, the park’s bathrooms might not have been open.
“It’s a freak incident,” he said. “I feel sorry for the lady that did that, and I feel bad for the people who witnessed it.”
Meanwhile, Kahr D’Esposito is imploring people at the park who witness drinking or other illegal behavior to call the non-emergency dispatch number, 3-1-1. City marshals, not Metro Police, will be dispatched, she said, and they have already proven to be a big help.
“We just have to be really diligent and consistent because the word will get out that, hey, you can’t drink here because someone will call the marshals on you,” she said.
Joe Schoenmann doesn’t just cover downtown, he lives and works there. Schoenmann is Greenspun Media Group’s embedded downtown journalist, working from an office in the Emergency Arts building.
CORRECTION: This story was updated to correct the name of Kathleen Kahr D’Esposito. | (November 18, 2013)