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Businesses excited about new streetscape, nervous about road closure

Business owners in the Historic Seventh Avenue District are optimistic that a new streetscape will vastly improve the attractiveness of the district while acknowledging that they’re jittery about a 10-week street closure for construction.

“If it’s handled properly we should be fine,” said Carly Buntin, owner of Claywood wine bar in the 300 block. “If we can get through this 10 weeks it’s actually going to be a thousand percent better. I’m positive about it. I’m just on pins and needles right now.”

The first stage of the project involves major upgrades to water, sewer and stormwater infrastructure. To complete the work, the contractor will close Seventh Avenue to vehicular traffic between Grove and Maple streets. Sidewalks will remain open.

“We’re hoping it’ll move quicker if there’s a full closure to the street,” Jamie Carpenter, the city’s downtown manager, told shopkeepers and landowners at an informational drop-in meeting. “We’re thinking that’s going to be closed till early May and then following that there will still be some street closure impacts but they will be periodic in nature. It’ll be open to vehicles but every now and then we will have to close down portions depending on final paving and other pieces of the project.”

Besides the utility infrastructure and paving, the $3.5 million project includes new sidewalks, lighting and landscaping.

‘We need to get it done’

Matthew Hickman, the owner of Underground Baking Co. and a member of the Downtown Advisory Committee, said business owners had been nearly unanimous in their support for the new streetscape.

“We’ve been waiting five years,” he said. “We need to get it done.”

He said the city had engaged business owners throughout the planning process, updating the Downtown Advisory Board and seeking retailers’ input on the best way to handle traffic, detours, parking and signage.

In the 13 years that he’s operated Underground Bakery, Hickman has endured the liabilities of Seventh Avenue — “no pedestrian traffic, loitering, homelessness, a thoroughfare for trucks.” He thinks that will change when the project is done next fall.

“Yeah, it’s gonna hurt,” he said. “But at the end of the day it’s going to be a huge benefit for our businesses.”

Buntin, the Claywood owner, said she wants to make sure patrons know that businesses are open and that there are still plenty of options for parking, including a lot Claywood shares with an adjoining business, spaces behind the wine bar, almost all of Locust and Maple streets and Seventh Avenue east of the railroad tracks.