Photo | Lagniappe
A drainage improvement project on North Florida Street is expected to continue for another eight months, concerning many business owners along the busy midtown corridor.
Business owners on North Florida Street hope issues from the past don’t return, as the city continues a nine-month rehabilitation project in the corridor.
Current business owners along the midtown thoroughfare remember all too well what happened, beginning in 2007, at the intersection of South Florida and Emogene streets. There, a drainage project filled with cost overruns and delays kept portions of the street impassible for years. The previous project forced some businesses to close and others to move.
Roy Seewer, owner of Butch Cassidy’s, said he hopes this portion of the project goes better than the attempt about a decade ago.
“It’s supposed to,” Seewer said. “But it hasn’t been very smooth for me yet.”
He said the sales at his casual restaurant suffered last month because of the work, when the intersection of Dauphin and Florida streets was closed in all directions. He said he hasn’t looked at the sales numbers so far in November, since the intersection partially reopened.
Seewer said business was boosted recently by what he called a “viral” Facebook post by Callaghan’s Irish Social Club, asking folks to visit Butch Cassidy’s in spite of the construction. Seewer said he was thankful for the post.
While the intersection at Dauphin Street is reopened to east-west traffic, North Florida Street itself has been stripped of the top layer of asphalt and is only accessible via Old Shell Road.
City officials understand the frustration of business owners along the corridor. City spokeswoman Laura Byrne said the goal of the project is a comprehensive rebuild of the street to help alleviate flooding. Crews are not only planning to repave the street, but will replace all the curbs and gutters, as well as the infrastructure underneath. This includes all sewer and stormwater systems, she said.
While the project should last about another eight months, the plan is to keep the street open throughout the remaining time, Byrne said.
“We understand that this is the most painful part of the project, as the top layer has been removed … ,” she said. “The goal is to keep two-way traffic going during the project.”
Councilman Fred Richardson, who represents the area, said he doesn’t expect the same issues as 10 years ago because Florida Street is “not going to be closed.” With an eye to what happened with the previous project, Richardson said he advocated “strongly” not to “close it all up.”
“It’s not going to happen this time,” he said.
Lauren Burnette, owner of The Pastry Shop near the intersection of Dauphin and Florida streets, said the work has had a dramatic impact on her sales, especially when the intersection was completely closed in October. She estimated the shop has taken a 50 percent hit since the project began.
“It has been very difficult, even for our regular customers,” Burnette said. “Especially when the road was closed. People didn’t think they could transit down … ”
Since the intersection has partially reopened, Burnette said business has picked up, but customers are still frustrated by the work. It has impacted Burnette’s commute home as well.
Arthur Green, owner of the relatively new Bay Barbecue, said sales there have dipped 60 percent to 70 percent since construction began.
“I’m having huge, huge, huge issues with it,” Green said of the construction. “They’re doing a horrible job.”
Green said the road surface is almost undriveable and when it rains “it’s a lake.” He said he understands the completed project will be an improvement, but “I might be dead” before it’s finished.
Green and Burnette both said they weren’t notified before it began. The Pastry Shop owner said if she had been, she probably could have made some contingency plans. Seewer said he was notified by the city.
Byrne said business owners along the corridor were notified of the impending construction by the contractor and were also invited to a meeting.
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