Ches. City Bridge work causing mixed economic impact
Weather, shallow basin hurting more, some say
— More than seven weeks into the Chesapeake City Bridge work that is causing traffic backups and headaches — especially bad during rush hours — town businesses are reporting a mixed economic impact.
Chesapeake City Mayor Dean Geracimos said he
has stayed in contact with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is overseeing the project, to hash out any resident complaints about the project.
“It started off really ugly, but the complaints about the project have gone down drastically here at town hall,” he said.
Geracimos noted that the town is doing what it can to help tourists continue to get to town as headache-free as possible, including requesting work stoppages for the Fourth of July fireworks and August Lions car show. So far, he’s heard from both business who say they’ve been negatively impacted by the traffic backups and others who have seen no change.
“We hope we’re doing enough to help our businesses survive,”he said.
Some business owners contend the repainting project, which will close one lane of the bridge for several more months, has had less of an impact on revenues than the poor weather or increasingly shallow town basin.
owner of the Chesaepeake Inn Restaurant & Marina, said the impact on his business has been hard to gauge, because May was down with its rainy weather, while June was higher than normal. In July, the extreme heat has caused many to avoid eating outside — one of the main attractions for his waterfront business, especially in the summertime.
“Quite frankly, the lack of dredging has hit us harder than the bridge work,” he said Thursday, noting that many of his patrons come from the south or east in Delaware, who can utilize backroads like Bethel Church Road and avoid the bridge.
The issue of dredging the town basin, which has become so shallow that larger vessels are turned away and smaller ones have to watch the tides to avoid getting stuck is one that Martuscelli is watching closely.
“The smaller vessels can get in and have lunch, but they’re not really spending the night,” he said. “It’s a double-edged sword though, because if you come in with a larger vessel and dock, you’re not leaving. With smaller vessels though, a slip turns over faster.”
Town and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials said this spring that they would be targeting the fall months for such a project, but Martuscelli has yet to receive word on any movement.
“To be honest, I’m really worried about the prospects of dredging this fall,” he said. “I don’t think it’s happening in October, because I would have gotten paperwork by now if that were the case.”
Martuscelli conceded that his restaurant is likely not as impacted as some of the smaller businesses, because as an event hall, many people are required to come regardless of roadwork. But he believes that the shallow basin is having a trickle-down effect on other town businesses.
“A deeper basin helps everyone, because if you’re staying overnight with us you’re not going to just stay on your boat, you’re going to walk into town to see the shops,” he said. “I look at us like an anchor store in a shopping center. If you come for us, you’re going to check out what is nearby.”
Bob Roethke, owner of Inn at the Canal bed and breakfast, agreed with Martuscelli that so far his business has not been dramatically impacted by the bridge work.
“I look at it as a minor inconvenience,” he said Thursday, noting it mainly has just added time onto his travel and pickup of inventory. “I really haven’t had any complaints from guests, who mostly have said, ‘Ya, it’s an inconvenience, but it is what it is.’”
Roethke said he hasn’t seen a decrease in his bookings at all, and in fact may currently be seeing an uptick from his summertime average. He attributes that growth to redevelopment of the inn’s website to make it more user friendly and cooperation with larger listing websites.
“Our weekends are fine here,” he said. “I only have seven bedrooms here and we almost always sell out through our bed-and-breakfast season. I turn away a lot of folks on our busiest weekends.”
Roethke said his business has mainly been impacted by the weather as well, though not in the same way as the Chesapeake Inn.
“In some of the bad storms last weekend, we had tree limbs felled and about 200 feet of plastic netting that blew onto our roof and wrapped around it,” he said, adding that he suspected the plastic came from the bridge’s work site.
“It’s an inconvenience, but it could have been worse. Like anything, you just have to learn to adapt,” he said.
But not everyone has said that the have escaped the impact of the bridge work.
Sharron Taylor, shopkeeper at the Old Gray Mare Gift Shoppe, who has worked at the Bohemia Avenue shop for three years, said that this summer has been particular tough.
“Besides the weather, the bridge has definitely not helped,” she said. “Things have slowed down tremendously since last year.”
Taylor said that shops like hers depend upon summertime and Christmastime tourism to drive annual revenues and worried that a prolonged inconvenience via the bridge work could dig a deep hole for smaller shops to get out of financially.
“I hope that people can stick it out for next year,” she said.
While traffic can back up for miles during rush hour due to ongoing Chesapeake City Bridge work, business owners are reporting a mixed economic impact.
Maryland Agriculture Secretary Joe Bartenfelder spoke in defense of family farms, among other topics at Ag Day at the Cecil County Fair Tuesday.