The timing of a downtown Stettler construction project isn’t sitting well with some businesses in the affected area.
Downtown businesses along a one-block stretch of Main Street and their customers are facing at least part of the summer of doing business in the midst of major construction projects slated to start at the beginning of May.
The Town plans to replace the cast iron water main, lead water services and the sidewalks on both sides of 50th St. between 48th and 49th Avenues.
Coffee Tree owner Nevzeta Frljak said it just isn’t the time for limiting access by any measure because, “We are on the road to recovery. We cannot afford to discourage (visits) due to parking which is a problem already,” she added.
“I think they should postpone it,” she said, referring to the typically busy summer season when more folks are out and about in town due to vacations in nearby campsites and cabins, etc.
Frljak suggested that another time for the project would be more helpful, “Because summer is our peak time. It will impact sales for sure.”
Over the past week, the Town’s Director of Operational Services Melissa Robbins has been meeting with businesses to further clarify details regarding customer/staff access, parking closures and temporary water to the building(s). Those meetings will continue in the coming days.
“For the most part so far, businesses are understanding of the process,” she said, adding that, however, restaurants in particular are concerned about the construction and its impact.
“We are trying to work with them specifically to find solutions that will work for outdoor patios through this process to keep them up and running as much as possible,” she explained, adding that there are screening options that could help aesthetically. “We are trying to minimize the impact on it.
“It’s our goal to make this as painless as possible and as quick as possible,” she said, adding that if all goes according to plan, the major work should be wrapped up by mid-July.
But Tara Lynn Butterwick, co-owner of Paper Moon Health Food Store, said the timing of the project is a serious blow.
She said she is worried about parking availability over the course of the project and also about customers with mobility issues being able to have clear access to her store.
She also doesn’t have the option for customers to shop and make orders over the Internet. “I’m not an online store, so I’m hooped,” she said.
Marlene Walentowitz, also an owner of Paper Moon, said accessibility is also her key concern.
“I understand that is (all) has to be fixed, but everyone is having a hard time,” she said. With most of her customers tending to drive, how parking will be affected is also a worry, she added.
Dona Bowles, manager of Cuttin’ Corners Hair Studio, agreed that at this point, she’s concerned about parking.
“And for the Handi-bus – is it going to be able to pull up front to drop off clients to get in here? Is that going to be a problem?” She is scheduled to meet with Robbins in the coming days to discuss these issues.
“Where will people park, how are they going to get in here…are they going to have to walk under things or over things?”
Pizza Express Ltd. staff say they feel pretty optimistic overall about the work, but are a bit concerned about the impact on walk-in customers and potential parking issues that could surface throughout the course of the project as well.
But Kurt Baker, who owns The Grate Kitchen Shoppe with along with his wife Jenece, said he’s confident the Town will be considerate in mitigating the disruption.
“And we’ll make sure our doors are as accessible as possible. We’ve had a lot of practice rolling with the punches,” he said.
“Ultimately, we’ll have faith that our customers will stay as supportive as they’ve always been.”
Lori Larocque, chair of the board at Superfluity, said she doesn’t have major concerns about the project affecting the store as access shouldn’t be a significant issue for her.
“We have full access at the back – no problem. So that’s a plus – being able to load and unload donations,” she added. “We have more walk-ins than we drive-ins as well.
“We don’t have any big concerns – of course it’s going to affect traffic somewhat but when people see that they can still get to the store, I think that they will still come down.”
According to the Town, in an effort to streamline traffic flow, the plan will be for all the work to be done on one side of the street, then the other.
“Really, we are addressing a number of needs – we are addressing the underground component and improving and bringing up to a greater standard the downtown ambiance with its mid-block crossings,” said Greg Switenky, CAO for the Town.
“We are also doing it on an affordability basis – we aren’t borrowing – this is us paying as we go to get this done,” he explained, adding that he understands there are disruptions when crews are doing, “Long-term, valued improvements.
He also pointed out that construction has to move ahead when ground frost isn’t in an issue.
“Some people feel it would be better in October, but all the projects are on now. From an engineering perspective, this is the ‘go’ time,” he said, adding that it also depends on contractors’ availability.
“It’s also not all at once. The contractor is going to be moving – while one part of the street is under construction, the other won’t be,” he said. “In the end, we hope to have a far better block downtown then what exists today for the whole community.”