By Kyle R. Cotton
With the recent report of the increase in the reported crime rate at Tobin Lofts and garage compared to the 2014 Uniform Crime Report statistics, students have expressed concerns about the safety of those areas.
A former student who lived at Tobin Lofts when it first opened in November 2013 said he was forced to drop out of the Alamo Colleges after Campus Advantage, the contracted third party management, failed to act.
The student, who asked his name be withheld because he still fears retaliation, alleged that in his four months as a resident, he witnessed underage students drinking and drug use, such as cocaine and marijuana.
The student said he went to Tobin Lofts management and nothing was done. He later informed two student conduct officers of the issues. He said one officer said they would look into the issue and the other said, “This is just part of college life.”
“I don’t know what the officer meant by that, but I don’t know of any institution that has drinking as part of college life,” Manuel Flores, a student conduct officer, said. “Drinking is part of an individual’s life, not college life; you come to college to learn”
The student also witnessed one individual selling drugs out of Tobin Lofts, and informed the management of Tobin Lofts.
He then went to the Alamo Colleges police with these accusations. In the police report obtained by The Ranger, the student told Alamo Colleges police the individual was selling cocaine and marijuana from the lofts and he had seen the drugs in his possession.
According to the report, the officer passed this information to criminal investigation division officers. The student said he didn’t see anything ever being done with the information he gave to the district police.
Then he started receiving threats after speaking out against the drug and party culture at Tobin Lofts. First, he received a note on his door that read, “Shut the f— up or you’re dead.”
A couple weeks later, his apartment was broken into while he was inside, he said. “I woke up, heard some noise and I saw them taking my stuff,” the student said. “They pointed a gun in my face and said ‘get the f— out, and take it seriously.’”
“I was terrified,” the student said.
Soon after, the student said he moved back to his mother’s residence and started taking courses at Northwest Vista College. Despite moving, the student said he still received threats via text messages saying they knew where he lived and they were stalking him. He didn’t feel safe anymore and left the Alamo Colleges.
Along with changing his Facebook profile identity and phone number, the student said he has moved multiple times because he is afraid. “I’m still scared to step onto an Alamo Colleges campus,” the student said.
He wanted to go into nursing because he said he had a strong desire to help people, particularly the disabled and elderly.
Since leaving the Alamo Colleges, he said he has driven himself into student loan debt trying to complete his education through for-profit online institutions, such as the University of Phoenix.
Psychology sophomore Asia Thompson, who lives at Tobin Lofts, said since Luther’s Café has opened in the Tobin complex, she has seen incidents happen more frequently. “I’ve seen more college students or young adults that are getting more drunk and you see the police officers have to pull them away from Luther’s or the other bars,” Thompson said. “They (police) are usually successful; you have some people who just yell at them, but nothing to where they would tackle them down.”
David Mendelson, one of the managers of Luther’s Café, said Luther’s has been on North Main Avenue since 1976.
“Us moving back over wouldn’t cause an increase in crime,” he said. Luther’s owner Randy Cunndiff has done a lot to make sure the area is safe, Mendelson said, including hiring private security to patrol the area and the parking lots.
Mendelson said the restaurant’s profits have doubled since moving across North Main this summer. He added he heard from the administration at Tobin Lofts the vehicle break-ins were more from students leaving their vehicles unlocked.
Thompson said she had no knowledge of any drug issues at Tobin Lofts, although she did note an “out-of-nowhere” incident where a man started assaulting his girlfriend on the first floor.
Nick Leto, general manager of Tobin Lofts, said the incidents involving the student who reported drug use happened before he came to Tobin Lofts in June 2014 and could not comment on it.
However, he said on the recent assault, management advised the victim to file a police report and get a restraining order.
“Whenever there is an incident like that, we encourage the resident to press charges,” Leto said.
When there is a crime, such as an assault, Leto said Tobin Lofts management looks at the police report and conducts its own investigation.
If they discover the resident did perpetrate the alleged assault, they would file for eviction of the resident.
Leto said if there were an issue with drugs, they would check the lease agreement before going into the accused student’s apartment and document whatever they find and report it to authorities.
“If students see a crime, they are instructed to call 911,” Leto said.
Two courtesy officers work part time at the lofts as security, one from Balcones Heights Police Department and another from the Alamo Colleges, Leto said.
He said the lofts previously contracted Signal 88 Security, but he would not specify why they are no longer with that firm.
David Mrizek, vice president of college services, said the idea for Tobin Lofts was a push from the neighborhood.
“What we wanted to do was just to pave over the area and make a big parking lot, and the one thing the neighborhood did not want was more parking,” Mrizek said. “They were very wise about that and it causes us to think differently (about space).”
Mrizek said the goal of creating the lofts was to change this college’s culture from a transient student body to something more in line with the traditional college experience.
“We knew when we built that, we were disrupting the natural laws,” Mrizek said.
“This whole area from 10 p.m.-2 a.m. at night is packed,” Mrizek said. “What has occurred is we’ve created a critical mass of people who interact with each other.”
As a result of this critical mass, Cunndiff, owner of Luther’s Café, and many of the other establishments on Main Avenue, Mrizek said, has hired a security firm to control parking and deal with any other related issues.
Mrizek said this college has actually been able to clean up some of the drugs and prostitution in the area with the help of Cunndiff, the NRP group who financed the construction of Tobin Lofts and Campus Advantage.
“You’ve got this critical mass that has been created, and this place is hopping at 12 midnight, and that’s going to cause some issues,” Mrizek said. “It’s a big city, so you’ve got big city issues.”
Mrizek said the property, in all likelihood, will revert to the Alamo Colleges in 25 years, and at that time, the district would have no interest in actually running the property and would probably retain Campus Advantage to manage it when the time comes.
Dan Markson, senior vice president of development for the NRP group who also lives a few minutes north of Tobin Lofts, said when he first read the report, he was concerned.
“This is probably the best development I’ve ever done in the city, and we want it to be great,” Markson said. “If there are any issues, we want to solve them.”
For Campus Advantage, call 512-472-6222. For Markson, call 210-487-7878. For Tobin Management, call 888-696-3145. For the Alamo Colleges Police department, call 210-485-0099 for non-emergencies or 210-485-0911 for emergencies.