Revitalization a growing pain for some

Some downtown business owners say their sales are slumping because of a $4.3-million project to enhance part of Gaetz Avenue.

Rod Poole

Rod Poole

Some downtown business owners say their sales are slumping because of a $4.3-million project to enhance part of Gaetz Avenue.

The Little Gaetz Avenue revitalization project began with fencing just north of Ross Street in early June. The stretch remains shut down.

And the stretch from Ross Street to 48th Street has been shut down since the end of June so that crews can repave the streets, add paving stones, old-fashioned street lights, more trees and sidewalk enhancements.

Some business owners said on Wednesday that they’re looking forward to the enhancements, but a number of them are frustrated by how long the project is dragging on.

Rod Poole, who owns the Aerus Electrolux vacuum store, said he’s seen crews rip up the road several times. The only activity on his block is farther south, where workers are jack-hammering and digging up corner sidewalks. He has witnessed a four-day construction shutdown, even when the weather was nice.

“I am down 95 per cent in business,” he said. His wife is now trying to keep the business going by setting up a booth at Parkland Mall.

“It’s taken far too long.”

Patrick Bauer, who works at the Quenched coffee house just north of Ross Street, said the loss of traffic has affected his operation “big time.”

Sometimes, construction crews shut down pedestrian traffic for several hours because they’re pouring concrete near shop entrances. Then no one is around for two or three hours at a time, he said.

“It’s an inconvenience for customers and everyone,” said Robin Cross, retail manager at Prairie Office Plus.

“It’s affected retail and the amount of traffic we are getting, but it has to be done.”

Furniture manager Dave Holland added he recognizes wet weather has delayed the project. Fortunately, most of their commercial business is done over the phone. Those who want to come down can find back lot parking.

Cathy and Don Edwards, owners of Country Cupboard house decorating store, said they were told the paving would be done by the end of August and now it’s supposed to be Sept. 5, the day of a big Labour Day sale at the shop.

Cathy said the construction has significantly hurt their business, and especially when big festivals like Centrefest had to move down the street. She’d like to see the city organize a festival for their two blocks after construction to help shop owners.

Bev Anderson, owner of Bling by Bev, said she feels “isolated because there’s no traffic.”

Across the street at Loonie Lane, cashier Nina Rabena said business has been very slow, while Anh Huynh, supervisor of Vietnamese Subs and Rolls, said sales have decreased “big time.”

“It needs to be faster,” she said of the project.

Some comments were more positive.

While optometrist Gerry Carvell said he’s not happy with the construction noise, customers have been keeping their appointments.

Joe Szara of Joe’s Shoe Repair said people know where he’s at as well, so the construction hasn’t affected him.

“It’s an improvement,” he said, regarding road repairs. “It’s supposed to look good when it’s finished.”

Bonnie Jacobs, librarian with the Christian Science Reading Room, said not having any parking out front has been tough on the seniors who attend, but it’s only temporary. She said “they don’t worry about it.”

Charity Dyke, downtown co-ordinator for the city, said several delays due to rain have occurred since underground work began on June 13. Some water had to be pumped out and in fact, some of the road work had to be redone. City of Red Deer Environmental Services is working on the project with Proform Construction (ISL Engineering is managing the Proform contract).

“We had estimated that the underground work was going to take three weeks, weather dependent, and the streetscaping about four weeks,” Dyke said.

It’s now estimated that vehicle traffic will return on Sept. 5, she added.

“The city understands it’s been an inconvenience and we have worked diligently to maintain access to businesses,” Dyke said.

The total revitalization project is pegged at $9 million. A second phase of $4.7 million will see more blocks upgraded, from 48th Street to 46th Street, as well as 52nd Street to 51st Street, in 2013.

Downtown Business Association executive director Evelyn Storm said some specialty shops have indicated business is down, but they’ve heard from others that their sales are as good as ever. The association created a $25,000 marketing campaign as well as a toolkit that businesses could use, including window decals, she added.

When the improvements are done, they will be a big benefit for the area, Storm said.

City Councillor Paul Harris said he’s heard from a lot of businesspeople who have been appreciative of the work and the marketing campaign. He is the owner of Sunworks, which is next to the newly-constructed Executive Place downtown.

“We endured construction for four years — it was a recession and construction, so it took a hit for us,” Harris said. “But we managed. We’re grateful now because of all the people coming downtown. We’re now going to have 600 college students coming downtown (to the new campus at Millennium Centre).”

Janelle Malkin, store manager of Hudson Madison design and decorating shop, opened recently.

“It’s a mess, but it’s needed,” said Malkin of the construction. “We’re redecorating our downtown core, which is really important for growth. We’re quite supportive and we’ve received great support from the Downtown Business Association. Our street, 49th Street, is open, so we get that exposure.”