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Editorial: Downtown growing pains soon will ease

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There can be no denying the frustrations experienced by business owners and downtown patrons during construction of the Fourth Street entertainment district during the past two-plus months.

Originally, engineers projected that the removal of sidewalks and the roadway between Jackson and Franklin streets, followed by development of a pedestrian-friendly zone, would be completed by Nov. 7. The work is finally ending three weeks later.

The process has taken its toll on business owners and their customers. Some downtown merchants have said they lost thousands of dollars in traffic.

While frustrations are understandable, so are the delays. Most have been weather-related or caused by unforeseen snags.

Certainly the merchants and their customers should be commended for their patience, but plaudits also should be extended to city officials and members of the construction staffs for their extraordinary approach in keeping the public informed of the project’s status.

Those involved conducted weekly meetings with business owners and residents to keep them updated on the progress and to hear concerns. Media coverage of the work was thorough and constant. Throughout the process, all involved — including construction workers on the job — went out of their way to assist pedestrians trying to navigate the sometimes confusing alternative paths lined by yellow tape.

City officials were quick to deal with some of the snags, expediting responses so as to not further delay the project.

Admittedly, it has been difficult to look beyond the mess in the downtown area that has been an unavoidable result of all the work, but this week observers have been able to gain an appreciation of what is to come.

The idea behind the Fourth Street concept has always been to enhance and further develop a pivotal entertainment district in downtown. The narrow sidewalks served as an impediment to that goal, especially for the restaurants and bars that make up a significant percentage of the two-block stretch.

Added lighting will help make the area more user-friendly, especially for diners who enjoy eating outdoors. The project also will contribute to attracting and enlarging major events, such as Neighborfest and the Biggest Block Party Ever.

In the end, the project should be a magnet, drawing even more people to the downtown. That, by itself, should make a lot of people happy.

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