Construction will continue through the summer on a downtown stretch of St. Paul Street after a series of delays on a road improvement project, meaning the road will be closed.
Business owners, who have tolerated construction in the area for years, are worried about having no traffic on St. Paul from Main to Maple streets starting in early April and running through August.
Dick Vaughn, who opened Perky Planet Coffee two months ago on the stretch, said his business relies on foot traffic. The closure “will be devastating,” he said.
The two-block stretch has been a construction site on-and-off for years. The Stratos building was redeveloped in 2014, and Champlain College broke ground on its four-story 194 St. Paul Street student housing complex in 2016.
The latest construction is part of the city's Great Streets Initiative, a renovation of several downtown streets. The finished version of St. Paul will include widened sidewalks, more trees, bike racks, and space for awnings and outdoor seating for restaurants.
Construction began last August. The street originally was scheduled to be closed until Thanksgiving, before reopening for winter and then closing again from April through Memorial Day.
Instead, workers hit snags. Last fall, they found buried fuel tanks and removed them, according to Rob Goulding, spokesperson for the Department of Public Works. They also found some contaminated soil and had to create a plan to remove it. In January, the Burlington City Council approved $260,000 to cover the extra costs of the nearly $5 million project.
The discoveries kept the street closed through mid-January. And now the Department has extended the project completion date until the end of August.
Workers will replace and broaden the sidewalks and repair water mains, Goulding said. The side streets will also be closed at times.
The city met with local business representatives on March 15 to discuss the delays, according to Goulding, who helped facilitate the gathering. Business owners asked that the city promote available space in the Champlain College-owned parking garage.
Dave Bedard, co-owner of Juice Amour, which opened in February, echoed Vaughn's concerns. “We were just kind of getting into the groove of things,” he said. “There goes all of our foot traffic.”
He hoped the city would compensate the business in some way. “If they don’t do something, I don’t know if we can make it to September 1,” he said.
Goulding said the city would try to help with signs or parking incentives, but urged businesses to keep in mind the end result. “It’s going to be a great project when it's done,” he said.
The construction is inconvenient, said Leslie Wells, co-owner of Pizzeria Verità, Trattoria Delia and Sotto Enoteca on the northern block. But she has her eye on the long-term benefits. "It’s a little dark down here, and it’s not as exciting as Church Street," she said. "This project will change that. In the long-term, it’ll be nice."
Correction, March 20, 2018: The fuel tanks discovered under St. Paul Street were removed last fall. A previous version of the story contained an error.