Merchants who own businesses in the historic district of Main Street are denouncing a Main Street streetscape project that they believe will hurt their businesses.
Ron Soto, owner of Soto’s Optical at 1383 Main St., has started a petition against the project. He said he has the support of more than 70% of the businesses in the historic district, which comprises Main Street from Orange Avenue to Palm Avenue.
Public workshops have been held since April 2010 to formulate a project that involves a Main Street renovation stretching from Bayfront Drive to U.S. 301; it will highlight the street’s historic district. Wider sidewalks and a narrower street with parallel parking have been proposed as ways to promote more pedestrian activity downtown. The historic district of Main Street will likely be replaced with a brick street.
Parking spaces are being eliminated, particularly in the historic district, to make way for wider sidewalks. City officials said the argument can be made that the Palm Avenue parking garage and future State Street parking garage will make up for the reduction in 48 spaces from Bayfront Park to Orange Avenue.
But Soto and other business owners said the State Street garage needs to be built before the city considers such a project.
Soto, whose store has been in his family since 1949, said he remembers when the city installed parallel parking on the street in the 1970s.
“We did that years and years ago, and we got rid of it because it hindered traffic too long,” Soto said.
Soto said he has about 18 parking spaces in front of his store.
“If they do this, they will take half of my parking away,” Soto said. “All I ask is that the city doesn’t ram this down our throats.”
Soto also questions why the sidewalks need to be widened.
“I sit here every day and the sidewalks aren’t packed with people who need more room to walk,” Soto said.
Dan O’Connor, owner of the newly opened Irish Pub, at 1359 Main St., agreed.
“I have 16 outdoor dining seats outside right now,” O’Connor said. “If they widen the sidewalk, I could maybe get four more seats. Big deal.”
O’Connor’s main objection with the project is linked to his new venture.
“When it comes down to it, I can’t afford to risk anything as far as not being able to get foot traffic down this way,” O’Connor said. “People are just getting used to the parking meters, so all we ask is they leave us alone for a while.”
Tom Friend, owner of Friend’s Jewelers, 1387 Main St., for 35 years, called the project “pretty sad.”
“This probably won’t kill us, but it will come close and it will destroy businesses just trying to make ends meet,” Friend said.
When the Five Points roundabout was constructed, Friend said the construction “really hurt” his business.
“This type of construction headache keeps customers away from downtown until the mess is over,” Friend said.
Friend doesn’t deny the project would be beautiful upon completion.
“But businesses are still trying to recover from the downturn in the economy,” Friend said. “I would put it on the back burner for a while. Just leave us alone for at least a couple of years.”
Liz Avis, manager of Barnacle Bill’s at 1526 Main St., said the project “will absolutely kill us.”
“First they put in parking meters and now they want to tear up the street?” Avis said. “It’s so unbelievable, it’s almost comical.”
Patrick’s Restaurant and Tavern owner Jim Sullivan called the brick paving of Main Street and the parallel parking concept “completely disastrous.”
All merchants and the public are encouraged to send their input to Moran at [email protected].
Merchants sound off on project.
“If they do this, they will take half of my parking away. All I ask is that the city doesn’t ram this down our throats.” — Ron Soto, owner of Soto’s Optical
“People are just getting used to the parking meters, so all we ask is they leave us alone for awhile.” — Dan O'Connor, owner of Irish Pub
“This type of construction headache keeps customers away from downtown until the mess is over,” — Tom Friend, owner of Friend’s Jewelers
“First they put in parking meters and now they want to tear up the street? It’s so unbelievable it’s almost comical.” — Liz Avis, manager of Barnacle Bill's
"We don’t need this. There’s a lot that can be done to save money and help the existing businesses.” — Wendy Getchell, owner of Lotus
“The roundabout construction decimated our business, so imagine what tearing up the whole street will do,” — Jim Sullivan, owner of Patrick's