Main St. project causes concern
A number of downtown Newark business owners are expressing concern over a road construction project planned for Main Street.
Slated to last at least 18 months, the project will result in lane closures and at times will shut down access to certain side streets – factors that will keep customers away, business owners say.
“There’s going to be a lot of casualties,” said Carl Georigi, CEO of the Platinum
Dining Group, which runs Taverna. “There’s going to be a lot of businesses that will not survive. Main Street is the lifeblood of Newark. The vitality of Main Street will be incredibly impacted by all of this.”
In discussion for several years, the construction project involves a full reconstruction of the roadway. The work will go beyond a simple repaving and address structural problems in the concrete below the road surface, according to officials.
“The concrete has outlived its life cycle,” said Joe Hofstee, project manager for AECOM, a Delaware Department of Transportation consultant. “The roadway is basically at the point where it has to be rehabilitated.”
The project will go out to bid this fall, and initial work could begin as early as the end of November. The project is expected to be completed by the summer of 2020.
The work will be done in phases, starting at the east end of Main Street, near the Newark Free Library. Depending on the contractor, some phases could be done simultaneously.
There will be lane restrictions throughout the course of the project, but one lane will remain open at all times.
Two Main Street intersections, Tyre Avenue and Academy Street, will be closed for two months each, though not at the same time.
“There will be no access from Academy Street onto Main Street or vice versa, Main Street onto Academy Street,” Adam Weiser, of AECOM, said.
Other intersections, like South Chapel Street, will see weekend closures.
The project also includes the installation of additional pedestrian crossing bumpouts and two parklets featuring benches and landscaping.
More than a dozen business owners met with representatives of DelDOT and AECOM last month to discuss their concerns about the lengthy construction
Ryan German, owner of Caffé Gelato, said he believes revenue for downtown businesses will drop 20 percent during the construction.
“The smallest, most fragile businesses that have the least cash reserves are going to close,” German said. “Maybe the city doesn’t care because when the road looks really nice and we have the parklets in and everything looks beautiful, someone is going to fill that retail space.”
He said that the construction will block parking meters and argued that DelDOT should delay the start until the city builds a parking garage. A garage has been discussed for years but does not appear to be in the city’s plans at this time.
He added that he wants DelDOT to conduct a feasibility study to examine the project’s impact on businesses.
Nic DeCaire, owner of Fusion Fitness, said the closure of the Tyre Avenue intersection will make it harder for people to get to his gym and
the other businesses in Market East Plaza.
“That’s not just putting me out of business, you’re putting the comic book shop out of business, the hair salon, everybody in Market East Plaza – the Chinese food store, LabCorp,” DeCaire said.
The consensus among the business owners was that they wanted the work done only at night and spread out over a longer duration, such as only doing construction during the summer, when traffic is lighter.
“We all agree it needs to get done, it’s just how to least impact the businesses,” said Sasha Aber, owner of Home Grown Cafe. “We’d rather have a longer project that keeps us viable.”
Aber said she worries the construction will cause customers to think Main Street is closed, despite DelDOT’s promise to keep one lane open.
“We already have a parking perception issue,” she said. “Whether you’re closing one lane or not, people look at it as a whole. The public doesn’t really care what you’re closing.”
Hofstee argued it is more efficient and less disruptive to do the work all at once.
“If we’re out there doing spot work, it’s a longer period of time. Instead of two years of Main Street being perceived as under construction, you’re looking at five years that Main Street is being perceived as under construction,” he said. “People are going to say, ‘When is Main Street ever going to be open?’ The quicker you can get in and out, the better it is for the businesses.”
He pledged to work with the businesses as much as possible.
“We’re trying to figure out a good way to minimize the impact on all the businesses along Main Street,” he said.
On Tuesday, Weiser said he was still trying to find a way to accommodate merchants but had no updates to share.
A weeklong effort to temporarily patch the worst areas of Main Street in June provided motorists a glimpse of what travel through downtown will look like for 18 months starting as early as this fall.