Residents living near a bar on East Platte Avenue are fed up with the violence in their neighborhood. Since the beginning of the year, several shootings have taken place mainly in their backyard. In one case, a gunshot victim bled profusely outside a neighbor’s house, leaving behind a large pool of blood.
Residents say the opening of Babilonia, a nightclub-style bar, sparked a spike in violence near Platte Avenue and Boulder Street. Bar owner Juliet Romero-Garcia says the business has also been caught in the crossfire.
According to locals, there have been eight known shots since the bar opened, injuring nine people. The Gazette asked for police records to clarify exactly what was reported during those eight nights. Romero-Garcia says the shootings took place near their bar, but none occurred in the building and the staff are not responsible for the violence. The bar’s leadership also says the shootings are hurting their business and they want to see dangerous offenders arrested.
The residents’ objective is to shut down the bar. They tried to work with law enforcement to make it happen, but to no avail. They went to the city council to plead their case. Twice.
“We can’t count the number of bullets flying in our neighborhood,” Monika May said at a council meeting this week.
The management of the bar is also working on solutions. The company has installed 38 security cameras and hired security guards, said Romero-Garcia, who runs the bar with the help of her husband Dennis Ugarte.
“I too fear for my life,” she said. “So what can I do if I have 10-15 security [guards] and someone shoots in the street?
In one incident, security camera footage showed a pair of cars driven by the company and opened fire, damaging a nearby gas station and injuring three people.
But according to Romero-Garcia, the shooters weren’t aiming for bass.
“May 27, for example, doesn’t even happen on my property,” she said. “After the news comes and says ‘it’s in Babilonia’, how can you say that?”
Romero-Garcia and Ugarte speak English and Spanish. Ugarte is originally from Puerto Rico. Two Puerto Rican flags were prominently displayed on one of the bars‘ walls.
News footage collected by a local television station showed shattered windows in the building. However, Romero-Garcia and Ugarte say those windows are located in a wing that does not belong to Babilonia and have been broken since before the couple opened their business.
Regardless of the position of the bar, nearby residents say they see a clear link between bar patrons and violence.
At a town council meeting, residents made a detailed presentation of their complaints, including a plea to enforce codes dealing with public nuisances.
Councilor Dave Donelson visited the bar parking lot with residents and during their conversation found four casings in the parking lot. He then presented these casings to the city council.
Romero-Garcia disputed that casings were found in their parking lot.
Jacques Sears has lived in the Babilonia area for over 30 years. He is the captain of the neighborhood watch block and says the land was originally occupied by a Goodwill thrift store.
After Goodwill closed and new management took over, Sears said the building had had intermittent problems. He said he had filed complaints for one reason or another since 2007.
“Now that people are getting hurt, it’s getting attention,” he said. “We would like it closed.”
In one dramatic case, during the May 27 shooting, a man was hit by gunfire in the Babilonia parking lot, fled and bled profusely in the street outside a neighbour’s house, a neighbor said. Sears.
Calling for closure bothers Romero-Garcia and Ugarte — they’re just trying to run a business — but Ugarte is friendly.
“I don’t blame them,” Ugarte said. “I know what they think about having a place where there’s a lot of shooting, I’d be scared too, but you have to know the whole story before they talk.”
Romero-Garcia said she didn’t think it would make a difference if Babilonia closed. She said the only way to really stop the shooting is “to stop the dangerous people”.
Before becoming Babilonia, the building was occupied by a bar called Twisted Apes. Twisted Apes shut down nearly a year ago on July 24, 2021. Sears said that while Twisted Apes was in business, there was never anything like the violence Babilonia drew.
“I’ve never heard of Twisted Apes,” Sears said. “There was no violence, no late night noise, there was the occasional loud motorbike but that was it.”
Although Sears cannot recall any incidents at Twisted Apes, an employee of the former biker bar was held at gunpoint and assaulted on the final night of operation.
Sears said even if neighbors call the police to report gunshots, there isn’t always a response. This is largely due to staffing shortages, which the Gazette reported on in April.
It’s something Sears says it “understands” because there are other more pressing matters they need to take care of. However, he still says that the neighbors around the bar want to see it closed.
The Colorado Springs City Council and police say things are “going on behind the scenes.”
“This is a top priority for me and the staff,” the Sand Creek division commander said. Brian Makofske told the board.
Makofske also said police can provide information to the city attorney’s office, which can then take a case to the city’s liquor licensing board. This group can suspend, revoke or refuse the renewal of a liquor license.
Colorado Springs Utilities recently installed four new streetlights along three blocks of Boulder Street behind the bar, which Sears said “lit the place up pretty well” at 1 a.m. Colorado Springs Utilities CEO Aram Benyamin said the place “looks like a car dealership.”
Residents and bar owners hope the new lights will help deter crime.
“I think it’s going to help now, because now the camera can see better,” Romero-Garcia said. “And if you know the camera is watching you, you don’t do anything.”
Studies have shown that better lighting in a city block can reduce crime. A study by the University of Chicago Urban Labs found that improved lighting can reduce violent crime in an area by up to 36%.
Residents noted new efforts by the city and the police.
“It’s not like nobody’s helping us out,” Sears said. “I noticed a couple of police patrol cars at the end of the street near Platte… Hope we made a good impression.”
Gazette photographer Parker Seibold contributed to this report.