Water wait

TM -- August 30th, 2006

Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance held a meeting at Massanutten Regional Library this afternoon regarding the four simultaneous construction projects taking place downtown, specifically in the Water St. area. The meeting was well attended by downtown merchants, HDR, Harrisonburg Electric Co. and even city council member Charles Chenault.

After opening remarks by Mayor rodney Eagle, Brian O’Dell from HEC addressed the burying of utility lines in the downtown area, a project that has caused more than a few road/lane closures since its April 1 start date. O’Dell said that the project is nearing completion with only a few jobs left (namely lines crossing Liberty St. and about 100 feet on either side of a section of Blacks Run). He also indicated that more power outages are on the way for Water Street and that more lane closures would be in place next week. Although, he did make sure to emphasize that they were not HEC’s, but a contractor’s fault. In the next 60-90 days the project should be 100% complete.

Next to the podium was Elly Swecker from the H-R Free Clinic. In mid-September, the renovations to the old Water St. location will be complete. The Free Clinic re-relocation begins October 2nd, at which point the clinic will be closed for 3 weeks. On October 23rd, the clinic will reopen. The clinic will be putting in a request for 20 spaces on the upper level of the Water St. parking deck for employees and change a “deliveries only” sign in front of the clinic to accomodate “in and out” customers who previously would block water street for periods of time.

Eddie Bumbaugh from HDR talked about the alley between old Spanky’s and Finnigan’s Cove. An engineer has assessed the situation and will be handing in his report to the city staff soon. HDR expected to have it by noon today, but didn’t. It isn’t unreasonably optimistic that it will be reopened in “a matter of weeks.” Donna Finnigan, owner of Finnigan’s Cove, was, of course, interested and vocal during this discussion. Unfortunately, without the report in hand no one was able to give her definate answers. However, depending on the results of the engineer’s assessment, the walkway could be at least partially open to pedestrian traffic during construction.

Jim Baker, diector of Harrisonburg Public works, spoke about the Water St. parking deck. While most are pleased that the deck is undergoing much needed repair, what the downtown merchants seemed to be irked about is that they didn’t receive timely notice that the deck would be closed. Baker relayed that the contractor is on a fixed time contract (meaning they’ll be penalized for going over time) and is on track for the Nov. 17th complete date.

At the meeting the downtown merchants in attendance said that they’ve lost at least 50% of their customers – and that some not in attendance had lost upwards of 80-90% – due to the confusing traffic and parking situations created by the construction projects that make patronizing downton inconvenient at times. HDR’s Jamie Marsh and Lisa Ha from Harrisonburg parking services talked about suggestions to bring business (back) to downtown. Proper directional signage, especially in and around the Water St. parking deck was the most popular suggestion with the merchants. The HDR has already placed ads in the DNR and is planning a series of radio PSAs. Ha indicated that a paid attendant will soon be hired to monitor and help people figure out the Water St. parking deck during the daylight hours. Donna Finnigan suggested changing the hours when cars will be ticketed, since some of her customers leave their cars overnight sometimes. One thing that Finnigan kept bringing up was that none of the suggestions or fixes already implemented seemed to help the businesses that rely on night time business, places like Dave’s, Luigi’s, and Finnigans. Unfortunately, no one seemed to want to address them at this meeting either. None of the merchants seemed particularly gung ho about a planned postcard that would be handed out to the 3,000 downtown workers and given out/mailed to downtown customers stating that Water St. businesses are still open during and need support during construction.


7 Responses to “Water wait”

  1. finnegan says:

    Thanks for the info, TM.

    One thing that has always baffled me is the parking entrances as you’re driving down Water St. They face south south, then north north. If the parking aisles went N, S, N, S, then none of this would really be an issue. But instead, the signs say to drive around the block to Bruce St… No one (including me) is going to voluntarily do that, if I’m trying to get to Shenks, Luigis, or Finnigans.

  2. TM says:

    I am a frequent downtown patron, but I wasn’t too familiar with the daytime problems they’ve been having with the parking deck. I’m mostly downtown at night, so I definately heard where Donna was coming from. If Dave’s lot is full (I’m an optimist!) I’ll park in the Water St. deck, but I too pretty much ignore the arrows. The fact that two cars can’t pass in those transition lanes was another topic brought up by the merchants. Baker indicated that when the lot is repainted, though, nothing is going to change. For the meeting I parked across from the optometrist near the old A&N. Made it out just before my 2 hrs. were up!

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