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South Cape businesses feel financial impact

In-season start for Streetscape project cause for concern for some along S.E. 47th Terrace

March 22, 2018
Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Financial fallout from the construction site barricading Southeast 47th Terrace amid the Streetscape Project has some South Cape business owners distressed.

"This will probably close me," said Chris Bacus, owner of Ciao Wood Fired Pizza & Trattoria.

He is not alone in his concern.

Article Photos

Chris Bacus, owner of Ciao Wood Fired Pizza & Trattoria looks past a barrier, observing the construction efforts he says have impacted his business.

"The dust, the dirt, the parking situation. Not being able to park on the street has definitely taken a toll on business for sure," said Ashley Carby, manager at Cork Soakers Deck & Wine Bar.

The $13 million Streetscape Project is intended to provide an economic boost to the South Cape Entertainment District.

In addition to a long-overdue infrastructure upgrade, the project is intended to enhance "walkability" by increasing sidewalk width and eliminating on-street parking while also redesigning the roadway to slow traffic along Southeast 47th Terrace through the project area from Coronado Parkway to Southeast15th Avenue.

It also will add parking spots overall and new landscaping with the goal of ultimately improving the attraction and ambiance of the South Cape.

The project is a joint effort of the city of Cape Coral and the South Cape Redevelopment Agency.

Design work began in March of 2017 and the Streetscape project, contracted to Chris-Tel Construction, is expected to be finished by the end of the year.

The project will progress in segments.

"Construction will progress within a few blocks at a time, and we anticipate work in each block will be completed within roughly 2-3 months, weather permitting," said Yvonne McClellan, spokesperson the streetscape project, via email.

Businesses decry

in-season start

With the project commencing in January, businesses in the affected areas say they are suffering a drastic downturn in revenue compared to this time last year.

"I don't know what I'm going to do, but I'll survive," said Bacus, who said his niche Italian restaurant has suffered a 50 percent loss in revenue since Feb 20, the day construction commenced.

"I'm paying out of pocket for salaries, I'm not even taking a paycheck this season," said Bacus, who added he was forced to lay off an employee.

Other business say they have had to decrease staffing as well.

"I am scheduling less servers than I normally would. It's definitely weird, operating with less people than we normally do," said Carby, who says servers are still making decent money during a shift, but only because they downsized staff time.

"We're definitely not as booming and crazy as last year," she added.

The food service industry in Southwest Florida depends heavily on seasonal income, and business owners question why the city chose the busiest season to start the construction project.

"The end of season is after Mother's Day. The construction started Feb. 20, so that's the start of season. Feb. 1, really," said Carby.

The concern is many servers try to save during the high-season and live on their extra earnings to supplement expenses during the slow season.

Road confusion

In addition to the damper on the high-season customer traffic, business owners say construction has created traffic confusion in an area where businesses attract customers largely via drive-by traffic.

Bacus and his wife Jill said the road signs mislead traffic during times when the roads aren't blocked off.

"Road closed means road closed, right?" Bacus said.

McClellan said the signs posted are required by law.

"Signage, such as the 'road closed local traffic only' signs, are a federal requirement . . . Those signs are in place for the safety of drivers traveling through a construction zone," she said.

Still, some business owners say the signage is not helping the situation.

"It's a headache," said Carby bluntly. "They block off each intersection. First Coronado. Right now it's the intersection just down on Southeast 8th Court."

McClellan said they've been proactive in advocating for businesses during Streetscape construction.

"We have listened to the businesses who have shared their concerns with us and have added blue signs that say "BUSINESS OPEN" with an arrow communicating to motorists driving along SE 47th Terrace that their businesses are open. In addition, businesses also have 'business entrance' signs at their driveway or entrance to their building," McClellan said.

Meanwhile, all along Southeast 47th terrace during Wednesday's mid-day construction was a confusion of several apparent fallen over or tipped "business entrance" signs, pointing to no clear entrance for local businesses.

Voicing concerns

Now a restaurant owner, Bacus said he has more than 25 years of construction experience. He said he and other business owners warned the city not to begin construction during the busy season, and that they provided an alternate plan.

"They had input hearings. Nobody took our input," said Bacus, who suggested construction take place during off-season, when many of the restaurants close for a month. "Nobody asked us. Nobody thought this out."

The city has worked with the construction company, holding public meetings to keep businesses and the public informed with Streetscape Project updates. There also is a website dedicated to project information and construction updates, www.se47terrace.com .

"We have made every effort to work with businesses when possible regarding their concerns during the design phase and into construction. When possible, we have made accommodations," McClellan said on Wednesday.

"In fact, today we held a construction update meeting where attendees were invited to review construction plans and speak with the project team in person regarding any concerns they have about aspects of the streetscape and what will be put in place outside their storefronts."

Some business owners remain unhappy.

"The meeting was not very eventful," said Bacus, who attended Wednesday's construction meeting.

Others, though, do appreciate the public forum and the effort of those involved in the construction, despite the temporary inconvenience of the project.

"The meetings are very good. Everyone voices their concerns," said Carby. "The construction team has been very, very helpful, and they do work around our schedule. We're closed every Monday, so when they dug up our entire front sidewalk, they at least waited until Monday to do that."

Carby says the daily email updates on the Streetscape Project have been very useful as well.

Up to now, some business owners on the opposite end of Southeast 47th terrace haven't felt any direct impact from the construction.

"Business is going smoothly," said Shelly LaPaglia, owner of Backstreets Sports Bar. "This is a $13 million project, and once it's finished it will drive more business to the Cape."

Construction has not yet reached Backstreets' side of the road.

"Let's hope that it's worth it," said Carby of Corks Soakers, remaining forward-looking.

 
 

 

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