Downtown businesses still struggling with construction blues
Citizens weigh in on the Molalla Avenue project: Construction has turned this business section into a ghost town
If youve driven into downtown Molalla lately, you likely took a different route than you normally would, or you found yourself slowly meandering around Molalla Avenue on the yet to be finished construction project.
Contracting crews from M.L Houck Construction Company of Salem have been working on the project for months, and there may still be a few more months left to go, said city Public Works Director Gerald Fisher.
Only the east side of the street has been paved, and the road is torn up on the south side of Highway 211. Many people have said that they come through town often and hardly ever see construction crews working.
While there are signs up that state businesses are open during construction, the downtown area of Molalla has effectively been turned into a ghost town, with hardly any pedestrian or vehicle traffic going through Molalla Avenue anymore.
Fisher said the completion deadline has been moved out to the middle of December, and that the cost of the project has been increased by about 3.5 percent from the original contract figure.
Fisher also said that he is more than happy to address concerns of the business owners affected by the construction but people need to contact him first.
Word on the street
Joann Forbis walked a few blocks along Molalla Avenue to city hall so she could pay her water bill. She said that the construction has impacted her decision to come into town.
I live on the edge of town, so I dont necessarily have to come into town, but [the construction] does disrupt what business I would do around here, Forbis said. Its made me have to re-route when I do come into town.
Theres no parking for these businesses, and thats an issue for everybody, Forbis said. Today, I had to go pay my water bill, and sometimes finding parking is impossible. I dont know if my car will be towed, or if Ill be ticketed. It seems that the construction is driving everything away from this part of town.
Forbis said she understands the city is trying to make Molalla better, but that at the same time, businesses should be accommodated more than they have been.
Nathan Klein, a Molalla resident, said he is thankful that he doesnt have to use Molalla Avenue since he walks everywhere, but that he feels others pain.
I can imagine its probably a pain in the butt for people that have to use this road every day, Klein said.
Klein said, however, that the construction has impeded his travel routes a bit.
A couple of days ago, I had to bring my dog down to the vet, and that was tough, he said.
Klein said that he sees work being done more on the south side of Highway 211 when he walks through town.
Im no engineer or road expert so I dont know whats necessary, and I imagine a little TLC never hurt, he said. However, Im sure its quite a pain for the businesses.
Carol Clowers said she walks around town almost every day, and that the construction doesnt bother her too much.
I just go around to the places I need to go to and I move on, Clowers said.
I dont own a business, so it doesnt affect me like Im sure it does them by quite a bit, she said. Clowers also said that she thinks the city should send out notices to the people affected.
Its nice to have stuff that looks nice, but it seems like its taking a long time longer than it probably should, Clowers said.
Businesses still hurting
Months after the start of construction, and with periodic closures of different sections of Molalla Avenue, downtown business owners still feel the blowback.
Since the businesses in the strip mall adjacent to Long Park have a parking lot, they have it a little better than those located right on Molalla Avenue.
But many of the business owners and managers said that they have seen a significantly noticeable drop in business since the construction began.
Nancy McGlasson, manager of LBJ Printing & Gifts, said that she has had a big issue with people telling her they wont come in because they dont know how to get there now, due to the road blockage.
I have a lot of people that call and say We dont know how to get there, and then Ive had people say they just didnt want to deal with figuring it out, so they just dont come in, McGlasson said.
McGlasson also said that the city did not give sufficient notice for road closures when the construction initially began.
The day before they started construction, I got a letter underneath my door, she said. I didnt have enough time to tell my customers anything its been very hard on us.
Since the closures and traffic changes on Molalla Avenue, a small gravel route has been put in to connect Kennel Avenue to the strip mall via W. Ross Street.
The problem, however, is that its difficult to notice its there, unless you have already seen it. Subway and Just In Video have even placed signs at the intersection of Kennel Avenue and W. Ross Street pointing customers towards the gravel road and into the strip mall.
Justin Venecucci, owner of Just In video, said he estimates that the construction has cost his business about $100 per day, and that it shouldnt be taking as long as it is.
Ive done construction work in the past, and when they redid Estacada recently, it wasnt anything like this, he said.
Venecucci also experienced complaints from customers saying they had trouble figuring out how to actually get to his store.
When the city flipped the traffic, there was very poor signage, so nobody knew how to get to us, he said. I went to the construction company first, and they flat out told me that I should avoid the area, he said.
Venecucci said that he believes the city could do a better job of being more active in involving businesses with the progress and keeping them up to date.
The city just doesnt seem interested in the viability of the businesses; theyre not contacting us or letting us know whats going on, he said.
Venecucci said that while he does have regular customers who are loyal and will come in regardless of the traffic situation, there are others who are annoyed with the street closures and wont come in.
Anna Skaggs, manager of Buckeroo Deli, said she also has had people tell her that they have trouble finding how to get to her business.
Weve definitely seen a decline, and Ive had people say they cant get here, Skaggs said.
Ive had customers come in and joke about how they never seen anybody working, Skaggs said. Heaven forbid they actually work more than six hours in a week.
I drove by one day on my way to work and I see three guys out there two were standing around, and one was on the ground petting the sidewalk, Skaggs said.
Skaggs also said that she wasnt happy with the timing for beginning the project. We all felt it around the fourth of July, she said. All the business that normally comes to town didnt come.
When its done, Im sure it will look beautiful, but there wont be any businesses to shop in, since some of the businesses are probably going to have to close, she said.
Public Works Director Gerald Fisher addressed in an email last week some of the concerns raised by citizens and business owners.
Fisher said that the completion deadline is now around the middle of December, but the contractor is trying to finish before Thanksgiving.
ML Houck has made quite a bit of progress on Molalla Avenue and have been on site every day, Fisher said.
Fisher then ticked off a long list of work that has been completed so far, including storm main installation, sewer lateral connections, water services, subgrade cement treatment, base rock installation, pavement base lift installation, almost all of the curb on one section of the roadway and the sidewalk north of Main Street on the east side of the roadway.
Fisher said that a new waterline from Fifth Street to Main Street has been installed, and the contractor is preparing to pressure test and chlorinate the waterline so they can move customers over to the new line south of Main Street.
Last week the contractor installed base rock for the roadway south of Main Street.
Once sidewalks on the east side of the street are finished and safe, they will move pedestrian traffic over by sections completed, Fisher said. In regards to folks not seeing the contractor working, I encourage them to take a look south or north of their business,. They will see the contractor performing all of the work listed above, and if they have any questions about what the contractor is working on, I can always be contacted by email or phone and would be happy to give them an update.
Fisher then said that he is more than happy to address concerns from business owners, but that he doesnt usually get them.
I rarely get asked questions or contacted by the business owners, and though I have about 17 public projects that I am managing right now, I always make time for business owners and citizens who have questions, he said.
Fisher said the city has had issues with interference from vandals, which has somewhat slowed down progress.
A couple of ongoing issues weve had is people deliberately tearing down caution tape and walking through wet concrete, he said. This slows down the contractors ability to continue their work flow because they have to deal with vandalism.
Fisher also said that there have been issues with the amount of traffic that uses Molalla Avenue.
Weve provided detours for the through traffic, but we have a lot of motorists driving through the construction zone just to see what is being worked on. This slows down the contractors ability to move materials around the construction site and clogs the roadways up for downtown shoppers.
Fisher said that through-traffic should use the marked detour around Molalla Avenue, so that business patrons can get to the stores.
We understand that this project is a big investment for the community and something to be proud of, and we need everyones help, patience, and cooperation to allow the contractor to efficiently complete the project, Fisher said.
There are no incentives for completing the work early, but there are liquidated damages if the contractor goes beyond the contract completion date.
Unless you are in the heavy construction industry or have managed a project of this size, it is sometimes difficult to understand the amount of work that goes into constructing 2,000 feet of new roadway and the day-to-day issues that we have to work through with the contractor, Fisher said.
He noted that the contract has increased about 3.5 percent in cost from its original amount, despite the changes and obstacles that the construction company has had to deal with during the project.
Construction projects of this size and scope can easily have much larger construction cost changes, and weve been fortunate on this project so far. Once completed, this project will significantly improve the walkability and livability of the downtown area for local residents and downtown merchants, he said.