Downtown businesses lost revenue from construction; Project reworked some stormwater drainage systems

Published 7:12 pm Thursday, November 30, 2023

Writer’s note: This is the second article in a two-part series about the Danville Streetscape project. To read about why the project took longer than expected, read the first part here.

Businesses in downtown Danville have lost revenue due to sidewalk construction over the last 16 months of the Streetscape Project.

Danville City Engineer Josh Morgan said the project went on longer than expected, as the original completion date was May 2023. When Pace Contracting started construction in June 2022, the schedule was set to keep front door access to buildings open so pedestrians could still shop and eat downtown.

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However, many people avoided going downtown as soon as construction started. Morgan said the city tried to keep parking open and to keep equipment out of the way, but ultimately people did not come back.

“Folks just still weren’t coming back downtown, and I think it was a lot of perception of it being inconvenient or not having access, but we were working hard to get people access,” Morgan said.

Business owner Carol Senn, who runs Carol’s Bridal on Main Street, said construction crews were in front of their building right when their usual busy season began.

Carol’s Bridal sells dresses for prom and weddings, and does tuxedo rentals. Senn explained that prom time is when they make the biggest chunk of their money, and this year their sales during that time were half of what they were in previous years.

Comparing how many dresses they sold to the previous year, which was when Covid was still impacting business, Senn said they sold half that number of dresses in just the months of January, February and March. She said the tuxedo rental numbers were better, since boys only need them right before prom, but it killed their dress business. They also had almost no Christmas business last year.

“When people saw all that work, they just weren’t going to come downtown, they couldn’t park,” Senn said.

She said their customers usually need places to park nearby, because if they’re picking up several pieces of clothing, it can be heavy for people to carry a longer distance.

At one point, Danville put up signs that said businesses were still open. They announced that there was free parking at the parking garage, and in city lots behind businesses.

Senn said they have a back door and people can park at customer parking in the Third Street lot. The city took several spots that businesses were renting in that lot, and turned them into customer parking; however, not many people knew about it.

Danville gave businesses an original schedule, and kept them updated with changes to the schedule. Sidewalks were supposed to be done by December 2022. Everything else, including new street lights, bollards, new traffic light poles, a new fountain, and more, was to be done by May 2023. However, crews were still pouring some sidewalks in October 2023. Crews are currently working on traffic light poles.

Some changes to the schedule were that crews had to go through sections of sidewalk multiple times. Morgan said crews had to make one pass each for sidewalk demolition, putting in electrical conduit under the sidewalk, pouring sidewalk, demolition of curbs, installing drainage and tree cells, placing new curbs, putting in paver base, and then installing pavers.

“They told us it would take three weeks, and they were here three months right in front of the store,” Senn said. “They came and tore things up, took things out, then they moved on to the next block, and then they’d come back again and do a part of it, and they’d go to the next block, and then they came back again, and that was when they were here three months in front of the store.”

Morgan said that construction schedule was the only way they could avoid blocking access to buildings for any amount of time.

“It got really frustrating and a little overwhelming for businesses, because they’re like ‘oh now they’re back again, now they’re back again,’” Morgan said. “But I think the only way you counter that is to be far more disruptive for a short period of time, or you be slightly disruptive for a long period of time.”

The other option was to close sections of sidewalk for weeks at a time and do all the work at once. Morgan said looking back, some businesses might have preferred that way, but the city’s goal was to keep businesses open and to keep things flowing.

“If we had known exactly how long it was going to take from the start, maybe that would’ve made folks be a little more patient, but the quality of work is really good,” Morgan said. “I’ve struggled to come up with an obvious solution to the problem of not affecting businesses too much during the project.”

Senn said business picked back up after crews left, and that workers were helpful to businesses and customers.

“The workmen have been absolutely wonderful to help customers, they helped people in and out of the business,” Senn said. “I’m not saying the work didn’t need to be done; the trees were tearing up the lines under the street, tearing up the sidewalks. The work had to be done, it has just gone on much too long.”

Relief for businesses

In early 2022, Danville issued grants of up to $10,000 to businesses that lost revenue due to the Streetscape Project. A total of 20 businesses received grants. 14 of those businesses got the full $10,000, and six got $5,000. The total amount given out was $170,000.

Carol’s Bridal received the full $10,000 grant, which Senn called “literally a drop in the bucket.” She said while they are grateful for the grant, it’s a fraction of what they actually lost.

Senn said she didn’t have a number for how much anticipated revenue they lost over the whole 16 months, but they lost over $40,000 in a three-month period between January to March 2023.

“Some of the restaurants and all lost a lot more than that, and $10,000 was nothing,” Senn said.

Other businesses that received grants include the Copper and Oak and La Cosa Nostra restaurants. Lahannah Bonagofski, a co-owner of Copper and Oak and La Cosa Nostra, said they received grants for both restaurants.

While Bonagofski could not disclose how much anticipated revenue they lost over the whole project, she said they lost a “very significant amount of revenue over quite a few months.”

Bonagofski said they base their growth in guest count, and they saw a huge dip in guest count when construction started. The biggest dip was when construction was in front of the restaurant buildings.

“From the time they broke ground is when we started seeing a dip, then it trended down in the following months before we saw it start to turn and trend back up,” Bonagofski said.

In the spring of 2023, people started coming back. Bonagofski said business has not yet recovered to guest counts from before the project, but numbers are trending as if they’ll get back up eventually.

She said crews were helpful throughout the project, and the city kept them updated.

“Pace Contracting did a phenomenal job in trying to ensure that our guests always had access to us, and they tried to work around our schedule with them getting their own job completed,” Bonagofski said.

The city has given no indication that they’ll give more grants to downtown businesses. Senn said that she and other business owners have requested more money, been to commission meetings and sent letters, providing evidence of what they’ve lost. But she said they’ve been told that the city won’t send more grants.

Stormwater drainage

The city of Danville, along with Pace Contracting and the design firm Gresham Smith, are facing a lawsuit by Nina Kirkland, owner of Coldwell Banker VIP Realty on Main Street. The suit alleges that the Streetscape Project caused there to be significant flooding in the business’ basement after any rainfall event, where there were never flooding problems before the project started. To read about the lawsuit, click here.

No other businesses are involved in the suit, and the city has not commented on the matter.

While La Cosa Nostra is not connected to the suit, Bonagofski said they experienced flooding in the basement of La Cosa Nostra after the Streetscape Project started. The restaurant is three buildings down from VIP Realty.

Bonagofski said the flooding at La Cosa Nostra was a one time occurrence, and it was significant. They had 30 inches of water after a storm.

She said they never had significant flooding before the project.

“We had some torrential rain storms before and never had any flooding,” Bonagofski said.

She said everyone who looked at the basement could not determine a specific cause for the incident. Downtown construction crews came and tried to pinpoint where the flooding came from, and they talked to the city about the flooding, but no one could confirm where the water came from.

Bonagofski said they purchased a sump pump to deal with the immediate problem, and had a clean up crew in. They do still have a pump there, and have not had any flooding since. She doesn’t foresee it being an issue. Copper and Oak did not experience flooding.

Senn did not wish to comment on whether Carol’s Bridal experienced any flooding during the Streetscape Project. However, she said she’s noticed that rainfall sometimes sits by the corner of Fourth and Main long after it rains.

While Morgan did not talk about the flooding at VIP Realty, he said that construction crews reworked some drainage systems they found throughout the project.

Throughout the project, Pace Contracting crews dug up to five or more feet into the ground under sidewalks. Morgan said crews found old wells, old cisterns, and drainage lines that they didn’t know were there. He said some of them needed to be tied into other drainage systems.

For example, some drainage lines on North Fourth Street were emptying out under the sidewalk behind the curb, and weren’t tied into anything according to Morgan, so the soil under the sidewalk was wet.

“We fixed a lot of that kind of stuff that was either not tied in correctly, or damaged,” Morgan said. “They were good opportunities, but it’s not something they anticipated having to deal with until they found it.”

Morgan said that both himself and the contractors went to several downtown buildings’ basements during rain events to look at flooding that happened throughout the project. He said they spent a lot of time going through basements trying to figure out what was causing flooding.

“A lot of these old buildings on Main Street have internal drainage; there won’t just be a downspout that comes down the side of the building, it’ll be a downspout that comes down through the building, so you don’t see those if you’re standing outside,” Morgan said.

Morgan said he doesn’t know whether the work has caused any stormwater drainage issues, but he thinks they made things better. He said that if the contractors find out that something they did caused flooding in the businesses, Morgan believes they would go back in and fix it.

Moving forward

Morgan said he’s disappointed that the project caused businesses to lose revenue, but he’s hopeful that the completed product will cause them to gain revenue.

“That bums me out because at the end of the day, this project is for downtown, it’s for the community, and our goal is that it benefits the activity downtown and the economy,” he said. “In the long term, hopefully it offsets the negative with enough positive that our downtown businesses thrive moving forward.”

Senn said Main Street looks beautiful, and that business owners are working hard to get people back downtown.

“It’s beautiful now that it’s mostly done,” Senn said. “People need to remember that downtown is alive and it’s open, and there’s still great places to shop down here.”

Bonagofski is heading up two weekends of Christmas events downtown. To read about Small Town Christmas, click here.