Business owners on Washington Street will soon see the street torn up outside of their stores, and some aren’t happy about it.
The streetscape project is scheduled to start on April 11, with a goal of finishing construction before the fall semester and the start of the University of Iowa Hawkeye football season. The project aims to make improvements the structure and appearance of places downtown.
Leah Cohen, the owner of Bo-James, 118 E. Washington St., said she hoped construction would start after UI’s graduation.
“They will start with fencing, so just the street will be shut down and we can keep sidewalk cafés open. It will be noisy and dirty, but we’ll just hose the area down so we can have cafés open for evenings and weekends,” she said.
Cohen said the project could be tough on smaller businesses located on Washington Street.
“This will be tough on the smaller businesses, but Bo-James has been around for 32 years,” she said. “It’ll look great when it’s done, but our hope is they disrupt our sidewalk area as little as possible.”
Mathew Chackalackal, the owner of One Twenty Six and Moonrakers, 126 E. Washington St., said he’s always been opposed to the project.
“I think it’s an overkill, and it’ll be really hard to fix,” he said. “It’s going to affect my business, and I’ve been fighting it. It was supposed to be a shorter project, but it will actually take a long time. Only time will tell the effect.”
Jane Worstell, operations manager at M.C. Ginsberg, 110 E. Washington St., said she thinks the area needs the project.
“The infrastructures not good,” she said. “I know the project needs to be done, and it’ll be beneficial for everyone. We have to live with it for three to four months, but after that everything will be done and done correctly.”
Nancy Bird, the executive director of the Iowa City Downtown District, said any business owners would be concerned about street closures in front of their stores.
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“The [district] is in favor of these investments, recognizing there is some short term pain for long term gain,” she said. “We have a great marketing strategy, and the businesses are hunkering down to ensure the least impact possible from the summer construction schedule.”
Iowa City interim City Manager Geoff Fruin said he understands the concerns businesses may have with the timeline of the project.
“The project will be very disruptive and involves redoing the whole pavement,” he said. “The impact to the businesses will be real, and we’re trying to get in and out as quickly as possible. We’re really trying to help them by completing the project on time.”
Fruin said the city is working with businesses in different ways, to address parking and access to the businesses affected by the construction. For example, restaurants with sidewalk cafes won’t have to pay café fees for 2016.