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Westport businesses want to improve safety by privatizing two public streets

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Westport businesses want to make the entertainment district safer by privatizing two public streets.

Parts of Pennsylvania Avenue and Westport Road may soon become private property under the proposal.

Westport merchants say their goal simply is to make sure their customers stay safe.

After the most recent shooting in the entertainment district last week, supporters say making the streets private would allow security officers to use wands and other metal detectors to keep weapons and firearms out of the area on busy weekends.

Some neighborhood advocates don't want to give up public property.

Some argue eliminating 3 a.m. liquor licenses could be just as effective in curbing crime.

"If you look at other entertainment districts in historic neighborhoods around the country they don’t privatize their streets," said Thomas Morefield, an urban planner who is encouraged that the Westport Regional Business League is now exploring alternatives. "French Quarter in New Orleans, Beale Street in Memphis, they tackle problems through a comprehensive management plan. A partnership between business owners and the city. We have that here and I think that’s ultimately what will be needed as well."

Opponents also don't like that Westport merchants would be allowed to charge a fee to enter the private area, which would pay for the increased security costs.

Westport property owners say guns cannot be banned on public streets without the change.

Roads would remain open for traffic and other public purposes under the plan. The exceptions would be for special events and Friday and Saturday nights between 11 p.m. and 4 a.m.