Businesses want delay of King Street project

In September 2010, Historic City News reported that the first segment of drainage improvement being performed along King Street by Department of Transportation contractor Masci Corporation, was being postponed until January — perhaps a sign of things to come.

The first leg of the project was postponed in part because community members expressed concern that traffic and pedestrian impacts could adversely affect retailers during the holiday season.

Then, when is a good time to shut down King Street — arguably the busiest and most widely relied upon entrance corridor to the city?

“It’s hard to change tires on a car going sixty miles an hour,” Historic City News editor Michael Gold observed; recognizing that there is ample roadwork, utility relocation and landscaping to be performed along King Street, but understanding the reluctance of merchants and residents to shut down the stretch of road between Riberia Street and Granada Street.

And Gold is not alone — many students and full-time residents, as well as business owners struggling in a tough economy to keep their doors open, don’t want to see their lifeline to commerce interrupted again.

By April of last year, Masci, the Port Orange contractor who has been working in St Augustine for the last two years, was wrapping up the drainage problems at the Malaga Street intersection with King Street and was continuing east to Riberia Street.

Business owner Bruce Maguire told Historic City News that there is no good time to do this, but the worst time is when there is no planning. “Give us time to plan and we can do a better job,” Maguire said.

According to a spokesman for the Florida DOT, postponing a construction project that is about to begin is rarely done; and, in the case of the first segment of King Street repairs, would not have been possible without the contractor agreeing to the new start date.

Those most affected by the closure of King Street and impacted by detours say they have only been notified about the pending shutdown within the past two weeks — allowing them inadequate time to prepare.

Citing the seawall construction, pedestrian projects at Orange Street and Castillo Drive, Riberia Street renovations, replacement of the San Sebastian Bridge along Ponce de Leon Boulevard and ongoing street repairs all around the city, Maguire said, simply, “We need a break from all the construction projects.”

“I believe we should delay this project to better allow us to achieve multiple benefits, including drainage, lighting, and beautification,” City Commissioner Bill Leary told Historic City News this morning. “Delay will also allow affected merchants and residents to prepare for and become involved in the design of the project and will avoid having the project interfere with our forthcoming commemorations.”

“Speaking for my business, these last years have been tough,” Heather Call, owner of Giggling Gator on King Street near Riberia Street, reported. “With all the construction and the economy in a crisis, now is not the time.”

Maguire offered special thanks to Call as well as Jan and Kirsten Miller at Butterfield Garage. During the Friday night art walk, Heather collected almost 200 petition signatures while Jan and Kirsten collected almost 150 signatures asking the city commission and Florida Department of Transportation to delay the project.

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