Sioux Falls, SD
Deeper social issues are driving a very visible problem at a Sioux Falls city park.
Addiction, homelessness and mental illness are all factors that play into an increase in police calls to Van Eps Park off Minnesota Avenue.
Mayor Mike Huether is well aware of the need for an increase in police presence at the Park. He's asked for an alcohol ban there and has put in picnic tables.
"We brought them in, but we put chains on them to make sure they can't be moved," Huether said.
Then there are the porta potties the city put in.
"Some people say, 'Why did you do that?’ We did it because guess what--one of the realities is when you drink beer, or any alcohol or even too much soda, ultimately you are going to have to go to the bathroom at some point in time," Huether said.
Huether has had five meetings with people who use the park. When they didn't show up in his office Tuesday morning, he went to them.
"I said, 'Well, I'm not wasting this time. Let's go to the park,'" Huether said.
He says it's important to him that people realize he's also the mayor for the people who frequent the park.
"There is something to be said by meeting with the people directly and being able to engage them and maybe even hearing some things you don't want to hear," Huether said.
Angela Kennecke: Do you think banning alcohol solves the problem?
Huether: Of course it doesn't.
He's heard that directly from the drinkers themselves.
"'Hey Mayor, the reality is if you don't allow us to drink here, guess what, we're going to drink over there, or we're going to drink over there or we're going to drink over there,'" Huether said.
Huether is also concerned about the image people get of Sioux Falls right off Minnesota Avenue in what he calls “The Grand Gateway” to our town.
"Fly into our airport, come down Minnesota Avenue, go down 6th and 8th Streets to our beautiful Falls Park and as you're driving by, you drive Van Eps Park and you go, 'What was that?' Reality is it's a highly visible location and we're going to make sure it shows well," Huether said.
The mayor says the fence at Van Eps Park will be complete this week. The county proposed the fence, but when the mayor heard about it, he told the county the city would put it up.
The parks board will be first to take up the proposed alcohol ban next month.