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Monday, September 23, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

Getting There: Downtown Spokane businesses suffer in construction zones

Like many downtown merchants, Julia Lara, owner of the Paper Nerd Stationery Co. and French Toast children’s boutique at 159 S. Lincoln St., has been affected by the summer street construction in front of her shops. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Like many downtown merchants, Julia Lara, owner of the Paper Nerd Stationery Co. and French Toast children’s boutique at 159 S. Lincoln St., has been affected by the summer street construction in front of her shops. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Businesses are suffering in downtown Spokane construction zones, and the city is asking the public to help out with their spending power.

Ava Haase bought the Next Door cafe at Lincoln Street and Riverside Avenue last December and is struggling to get through a summer of construction work surrounding her shop.

Haase said business is down by more than half. Her regular customers haven’t been venturing out to cross streets that are torn up, but she still needs their support.

“Come eat some sandwiches,” she said.

Down the block and around the corner, the Tamarack Public House is hurting as well.

Owner Teresa Gonder said surviving construction on Sprague Avenue between Monroe and Lincoln streets is “a huge challenge.”

Her walk-in traffic fell off dramatically when work started earlier this season.

“We are hanging on by a thread,” she said.

Corporate lunch gatherings in the loft of her 1892 building have kept Gonder and her husband, Leo, afloat.

“A business like this takes thousands of people to support it,” she said.

And the slowdown caused by construction has resulted in layoffs of wait staff, she said.

City officials said they understand the difficulty caused by big construction projects, but rebuilding city streets is a voter priority.

Julie Happy, a spokeswoman for the public works department, said the public should step up and help small businesses hurt by the roadwork.

Happy likened the problem to last November’s windstorm, when people reached out to help their neighbors.

“Construction is inconvenient, yet we have businesses who rely on us,” she said.

The work on Monroe and Lincoln streets between Main and Second avenues won’t wrap up until November.

In addition to streets torn up, the construction work temporarily has eliminated some on-street parking as well as traffic lights that control the intersections.

Business owners said customers are reluctant to brave the unusual conditions even though access and parking are still there.

Julia Lara, owner of the French Toast children’s shop and Paper Nerd Stationery Co. at 159 S. Lincoln St., said her business dropped off immediately when construction work eliminated on-street parking on Lincoln. Customers were unsure how to get to her shop in the former Steam Plant administration building.

This summer has been the worst for business since she opened in 2012, Lara said.

“We rely on a really good tourist season,” she said.

She said she hopes the work is finished in time for Small Business Saturday following Thanksgiving – her biggest sales day of the year.

At the Gilded Unicorn restaurant in the basement of the Montvale Hotel building, manager Alex Stoy said business has held up largely because of a dedicated base of guests eager to try dishes developed by his brother and chef Adam Hegstad.

The problem from construction is so acute that downtown property owner Jerry Dicker has asked the city to do more to help out. He wants the city to put workers on double shifts and eliminate parking meters and other fees to make surviving construction easier.

Parking meters encourage a turnover of vehicles – an advantage for shoppers and diners who only park for an hour or two, the city says.

The city is reluctant to call for overnight work schedules because of noise, light pollution and the physical demands on workers, Happy said.

Going to a double shift would cost around $150,000 a week, and skilled workers might get worn out or injured during longer workdays, the city maintains. Some already work 10-hour days.

Russell Seymour, a worker with T. LaRiviere Equipment and Excavation of Coeur d’Alene, said working in 90-degree-plus heat on downtown streets with tools that are no lighter than a sledge hammer is physically tiring.

“We are human,” he said.

Seymour also knows the trouble the work is causing businesses. He and a co-worker ate lunch last week at Haase’s cafe, where Seymour had left a bouquet of flowers earlier in the week.

The $3.1 million street reconstruction includes utility installations, sidewalk repairs, new street lights and curb extensions at intersections.

Workers said last week that installation of new stormwater facilities under the streets has slowed them down because each piece of the system has to be installed with a custom design. The utility systems exposed by excavation included a lot of dilapidated and unknown structures.

Even so, the construction plan has moved ahead methodically, workers said.

The decision to rebuild Monroe and Lincoln at the same time was made to confine the inconveniences of construction to a single year.

The work is only the latest in a succession of major projects. Voters have approved two big street ballot measures since 2004.

Major projects are also underway on Monroe and Lincoln from Fourth to Eighth avenues; the intersection of Division Street and Main Avenue; 37th Avenue east of Freya Street; and Indiana Avenue from Dakota to Perry streets.

The work is being combined with state and federal requirements to clean up stormwater releases into the Spokane River under the federal Clean Water Act.

Construction inconveniences will continue in coming years. In the downtown area, plans call for repaving Division and Browne streets in 2017, including intersection upgrades.

“Once it is done, it will be amazing,” Gonder from Tamarack said of the Monroe-Lincoln job. “But how many casualties will there be due to it?”

Meeting to cover U.S. 395 in Deer Park

The public is invited to a briefing Thursday on designs for improving intersections on U.S. Highway 395 in the Deer Park area.

The session from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at Deer Park High School will start with a formal presentation on the concepts, followed by an opportunity to ask questions of staff.

For more information, go to wsdot.wa.gov/planning/studies.

I-90 off-ramp at Freya open

A new westbound off-ramp on Interstate 90 at Freya Street is open to traffic. A ceremony to celebrate the work is set for 10 a.m. Tuesday at Second Avenue and Myrtle Street.

The $3.9 million job was undertaken to prevent backups of vehicles exiting I-90 at Freya. The design, which includes a pathway, will dovetail with a future interchange for the North Spokane Corridor.

Highway work

Elsewhere on I-90, traffic revisions are in place for bridge repairs at the crossings over BNSF Railway tracks at Sprague Lake and at Wahl Road to the west.

Chip sealing work is underway on state Highway 211 north of U.S. Highway 2 to South Shore Road. Pilot cars are guiding single alternating lanes of traffic.

Delays are also possible Monday through Wednesday for a chip seal project on state Highway 27 between Pullman and Moscow.

Expect delays on Argonne

Argonne Road from Maringo Drive to Wellesley Avenue is reduced to a single lane in each direction due to a repaving and stormwater utility job. Traffic delays are likely.

McDonald Road closure persists

In Spokane Valley, McDonald Road from Sprague to 16th avenues remains closed to all but local traffic for resurfacing and other work.

Also, northbound traffic on McDonald from Sprague to Mission avenues is reduced to a single lane starting on Monday.

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