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Engines roared. Trucks beeped as they backed up. Yellow tape, weaving from one orange cone to the next, wrapped up the construction scene Tuesday on Fourth Street.
The noise and congestion didn’t stop Mike Ferguson and his son Aaron from enjoying their bison burgers outside Scotty’s Burger Joint on Tuesday, the first day of a $1.7 million construction project to transform Fourth into a multifunctional urban street.
Downtown business-owners fearing a dip in sales can only hope other local consumers have attitudes like the Fergusons.
“We’re used to trucks,” said Mike Ferguson, who owns the Edinburgh-based business Ferguson Trucking. “It doesn’t bother us much.”
With Jackson Street to Washington Street closed, and with Washington Street to Franklin Street shut down, pedestrians used the white plywood walkways and remaining sidewalks to go to work, eat or to shop.
Columbus residents Adam Sparks and Amy Tincher met at Scotty’s around noon. Sparks, a Columbus Regional Hospital employee, said he took Third Street to Washington and began going north on Washington before realizing there weren’t any parking spaces. He then made a U-turn and found parking elsewhere.
Tincher, a Cummins employee, recommended using Jackson and Franklin streets to get to downtown businesses. That advice from this Columbus native will be even more important once the intersection of Fourth Street and Washington closes on Monday.
“It wasn’t too bad (Tuesday),” Tincher said. “So far, with the first day of traffic, it hasn’t been that noticeable.”
Neither said they’d avoid downtown because of potential headaches from the beautification project, which — when completed Nov. 7 — will boast bike racks, trash receptacles, trees and energy-efficient street lights.
“I’ll probably just figure a different way to get down here,” Sparks said. “If I need to come down, I’ll come down.”
Near the intersection of Jackson and Fourth streets, 310 Bistro assistant manager Sandy Kochaver swept off the restaurant’s sidewalk. Trucks rolled on dirt just south of where Kochaver stood.
Kochaver recognizes that few patrons will want to dine outside amid the dust and dirt, but she figures parking won’t be a problem.
“There really wasn’t much parking out here anyway,” Kochaver said. “They still can park at the garage (above The Garage restaurant on Fourth and Jackson streets) and walk around.”
Next door, Tuesday’s construction showed no signs of reducing foot traffic at Casey Jewelers. By noon, employee Brenda Blackwood said the jewelry store had received more business than usual.
On the other hand, The Savory Swines, a meats and fine wines business located north of Fourth Street and Washington, hadn’t had a customer as of 11:40 a.m. Owner Lisa Abendroth continued to voice concerns over parking for her suppliers.
Yellow signs reading “commercial loading zone” marked portions of Fifth Street and the block of Washington Street from Third to Fourth Street, in front of The Commons. Subway, Coca-Cola and Sysco trucks consumed the zone before lunch. Once lunchtime hours hit, Commons-goers parked vehicles there and paid the price.
Yellow tickets tucked beneath windshield wipers delivered fines for blocking the loading zone.
“The big thing was our vendors,” said Scotty’s kitchen manager Clint McCullough. “They can’t get in. And we’re not the only restaurant in the complex.”
McCullough realizes that the changes “will be great for the area. It’s just a pain right now.”
Tony Gambaiani, senior vice president at Jackson County Bank, said he feared an ATM on the south side of the building would be lost in the mess when Rieth-Riley Construction Co. begins ripping up the sidewalk underneath. However, Gambaiani said he was assured by city officials that a safe walkway would be provided for pedestrians.
“My concern, I guess, if I have one major one, is that customers don’t think they can get to our ATM for months,” he said. “That’s not the case.”
The short-term impacts of the project are real, but Gambaiani realizes that the plan’s long-term positives outweigh the negatives.
“We think it’s a good thing for the downtown cultural atmosphere,” he said.
Other business operators are also trying to remain hopeful.
“You know how something is there for a while, and then you just don’t notice it?” Kochaver said. “I’m going to be really positive and think of it like that.”
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