Phase II of the Superior Street reconstruction in Duluth will have some of its own complications for the companies involved, but hopes are that it goes as smoothly for shops and offices as it did last year, optimistic representatives from the Greater Downtown Council, the City of Duluth and Northland Constructors told business owners and managers in a meeting at Greysolon Plaza Wednesday morning.
Kristi Stokes, president of the GDC, emphasized communication – between businesses and designated construction contacts and also between businesses and their patrons – as the primary savior for a summer season during which business owners may expect up to a 30 percent slip in usual sales. Based on the experiences of other businesses last year, however, she added that 30 percent might be overly pessimistic.
Kyle Genereau, new co-owner of Security Jewelers, which was within last year’s western downtown construction zone, said the impact on their business ended up being closer to a 10 percent drop for the season.
“We had braced ourselves,” he said of anticipated drops in sales, but the experience turned out “awesome.”
Stokes also suggested cross-promotion for affected business – such as discounted coupons at one store when you make a purchase at another. Signage and social media also will be important tools for keeping contact with patrons.
Construction this year will start east of Lake Avenue and extend to Fourth Avenue East. There will be no traffic access to Superior Street between those avenues during most of the work. Beginning in April, businesses along that area will experience a few hours without water as the crews create temporary water service for when the old water, steam and other underground pipes will be replaced or updated, including fiber optic cables. Crews generally will work 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., but later hours may be added when disruption of service, such as for water, is necessary.
Questions from those in attendance Wednesday centered on access to parking and access for patron and for deliveries.
All of the public ramps in the affected section of downtown have entries on First Street and so will not be closed. A portion of Michigan Street will become two-way during the construction to aid delivery service, but that street also will end abruptly half a block beyond Third Avenue East because its Superior Street access will be cut off. Delivery trucks will need to do U-turns on the narrow street or back up.
As to sidewalks within the construction area, the contractors have committed to maintaining five-foot pathways and crossing from hillside to lakeside across Superior Street within each block. The crossings with packed gravel and ramps should be negotiable by wheelchairs.
Unlike the portion of Superior Street rehabilitated last summer, the Phase II area does not have full skywalk access, which does complicate promotion and access, Stokes noted. However, increased signage and kiosks and perhaps building banners should help.
Potential complications may occur involving Essentia Health’s plans for its mega development just east of the construction and through the construction of new apartment high rise at Fourth Avenue East. Duncan Schwensohn, the city’s project engineer, said the city is working with those organizations to address potential issues.
The Wednesday meeting is just the first gathering with others in the works before construction begins.
Here are a few aids noted as available for affected businesses:
• The city is working with Google to keep online city maps updated with the rerouting of downtown traffic.
• Weekly meetings with Annie Harala and others from Northland throughout the construction will begin when construction starts. These meetings give businesses the chance to flag potential and developing problems or concerns, or owners also can contact the contractors, city or GDC, they were told.
• Those who sign up through SuperiorStreet.orgwill get online weekly updates delivered Friday and Monday with upcoming changes and the previous week’s progress.
• The University of Minnesota Duluth’s Center for Economic Development has offered free advice to affected businesses, including help with a marketing strategy.
• Tables at the weekly Downtown Farmers’ Market, which runs July through September in Lake Superior Plaza, will be available at no charge for businesses in the affected area. Tables at the annual Sidewalk Days Festival (July 10-12) this year along Superior Street from Lake Avenue west, also will be available free for eastern downtown businesses in the construction area.