The city has delayed the start of a Lemon Avenue streetscape project until May 28, at which point a segment of the downtown road will be closed for about a month.
Businesses are preparing for the effects of an upcoming Lemon Avenue streetscape project expected to continue through November, but some are hopeful any pain will be worth it in the end.
“I think it’s going to make that street kind of the Rodeo Drive of downtown,” said Wayne Ruben, owner of the retail space on the ground floor of the State Street parking garage. “It’s going to be beautiful.”
The city announced Friday it has finalized a plan for the Lemon Avenue project, which will extend from Main Street to Pineapple Avenue. Beginning Tuesday, May 28, the intersection of Main Street and Lemon Avenue will be closed to vehicular traffic as construction starts.
The closure is scheduled to last four to five weeks. A segment of Lemon Avenue between State Street and Main Street will also be closed during that time. Pedestrian access will remain in place during the closure.
Richard Winder, the city’s coordinator of capital projects, said the city intends to reopen the street by July 4.
“We’re trying to expedite it to get it done in the window we have between holidays,” Winder said.
The city approved the $3.5 million project in hopes of making that stretch of Lemon Avenue more pedestrian-friendly. Plans call for the installation of bricked streets and curbless sidewalks, mirroring the look of the Lemon Avenue mall to the north. The project will also include improvements to nearby Paul Thorpe Jr. Park.
Construction on the street is scheduled to continue through November, with work on the park beginning after the road is complete. The city originally planned to begin construction earlier this month but delayed the work as it coordinated the timing with the developer of The Mark, a nearby mixed-use project.
Winder said the city has been in communication with merchants in the area in an effort to tailor the project to their needs when possible. Last year, the city delayed the beginning of the project from early 2019 to May in response to pushback from businesses concerned about how the work would affect them.
“The merchants of Main Street are very construction-weary,” Pastry Art owner Chip Beeman said last year.
The city is conscious of that construction-weariness. The city intends to post signs alerting downtown visitors that businesses around the project site remain open while work is ongoing. The city has set up a website for the project to provide updates to the public.
Ruben said improved downtown walkability and the availability of parking in the State Street garage should offset some of the effects of the construction. He was hopeful the project wouldn’t be as disruptive as some merchants fear.
“The good news is that our downtown core is not that big,” Ruben said. “It’s not a lot of drama to divert one street.”
Winder said the city is appreciative of the patience area businesses are showing as the city prepares to embark on a project that will also include an extended closure of the intersection of Lemon Avenue and State Street later this summer.
In his discussions with merchants ahead of the commencement of construction, he’s heard other optimistic voices regarding the new street design.
“They all think it’s a good idea,” Winder said. “Again, they do have a bit of construction fatigue with everything that’s been going on in this area, but they’re hanging in there.”
This story has been updated with additional information.