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Communication money runs dry, construction goes on
No rest for the weary.
Small merchants understand that term, and the hard work associated with keeping business open, but that mantra seems to be ringing more true on Winslow Way where reconstruction continues to breed frustration.
The contractor didn’t get Winlsow Way paved and forced a new parade route for the 4th of July. The city never reopened Winslow Way after it was closed for a “temporary” May 17 traffic revision, and now the meager $28,000 Street Smarts communication contract is over and the city doesn’t have anything to offer, but three more months of construction.
The end of the construction on Winslow Way is in sight, but construction will last through October down Ericksen Avenue. The council and business community are trying to scrounge up funds to help the businesses generate revenue, but the well appears dry.
In the fall the council set aside $40,000 for communication funds, which were granted in a $28,000 contract to Sarah Wen and Michael Reed to create Street Smarts. The city held aside $12,000 for city communications.
Chris Wierzbicki repeatedly said the city was a competitive applicant for a $50,000 U.S. Rural Development Association grant to replenish communications into the second phase of the project, but the city wasn’t selected.
The money is now gone and the delayed first phase of construction has yet to turn the corner and start work on the second phase.
Last week a group of 16 merchants and property owners including Esther’s Fabrics, Churchmouse Yarns and Teas and Bonnie McBryan, owner of Eagle Harbor Inn, decided to make a stand with a letter addressed to council.
“There is a high level of frustration that the city hasn’t kept in contact with the business community,” said McBryan. “Promises were made that the city couldn’t keep, like keeping the street open or ensuring there would always be access to the front doors of our businesses. Even promises like keeping someone visible, down on the street, to answer merchants questions.
“Most of us said we never met that city representative. [He or she] never came to the store.”
McBryan said that there are a lot of mixed feelings because business owners are happy to see the sidewalks poured and the project making progress, but the lack of communication is adding stress on top of major financial concerns for some businesses who have experienced a 50 percent drop in revenue.
“It’s at the point where now the money for the team is going to run out and it seems nobody is willing to provide the ongoing communication,” said McBryan.
“What will happen in phase two or three? Will Ericksen close? What will happen at the Madison intersection?”
The letter brought up contention with the council’s decision to give $500 to the July 3 Summer Vibes event - the alternative to the traditional downtown association/chamber street dance - chaired by Councilor Debbi Lester.
The letter questioned whether the city relaxed requirements typically imposed on other businesses. The various costs such as barricades, police and permitting were part of the reason the traditional dance took a one-year hiatus.
Lester worked with the community to volunteer or donate for most everything for the event, but the city did provide staff time, including two police officers for several hours.
The council donation is coming out of the mayor’s salary, which otherwise pays for council materials.
The merchants, instead, asked for money to be allocated to the Street Smarts team through the end of the project, “rather than awarded in small amounts to council members community-building efforts.”
One council idea was to funnel the penalty money to communications. For every day the Tucci & Sons team worked past July 4 they were assessed a penalty up to $13,000.
That maximum will be collected since work will continue to July 17. But the city says the money is restricted and will go back to the general construction fund.
Interim City Manager Brenda Bauer suggested the city use some of its $22,000 in lodging tax (LTAC) money. The lodging tax is a 2 percent tax levied and doubled by the state on all overnight stays within city limits.
LTAC money is restricted solely for tourism directed to an off-island audience. Possible ideas include signs at the ferry terminal for tourists.
Bauer said the council has not expressed an interest in using the LTAC money.
Mayor Kirsten Hytopoulos said the council stepped in to donate for the July 3 event to avoid a morale blow to the community on top of the construction stress.
She added that the staff hasn’t brought forward an actual LTAC proposal.