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Nearly finished downtown project draws early rave reviews


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A car turns off of Washington Street onto the newly-opened east section of Fourth Street on Monday in downtown Columbus.
PHOTO BY JOE HARPRING
A car turns off of Washington Street onto the newly-opened east section of Fourth Street on Monday in downtown Columbus. PHOTO BY JOE HARPRING

Troy Love, of Decorative Paving, puts the finishing touches of the newly-opened east section of Fourth Street on Monday.
PHOTO BY JOE HARPRING
Troy Love, of Decorative Paving, puts the finishing touches of the newly-opened east section of Fourth Street on Monday. PHOTO BY JOE HARPRING


Most store owners and downtown shoppers, watching as the final improvements are applied to the Fourth Street beautification project, say the revamped look and old-fashioned brick paving will add to the area’s historic feel.

Work on the 2-month-old project isn’t complete yet. But it’s getting close.

“We should be gone by the end of the week,” said Gary Davis, project superintendent for Rieth-Riley the construction company overseeing the $1.7 million, two-block repaving and beautification job.

On Monday, a skeleton crew continued to put finishing touches on the project, fixing a handful of loose ends, moving a couple of metallic benches to new positions, laying a few more paving bricks and cleaning hidden street drains of gravel.

Timeline for Fourth Street

Sept. 4

$1.7 million beautification project began for Fourth Street between Jackson and Franklin streets.

Oct. 18

Intersection of Fourth and Washington streets reopens to traffic, five days after the original schedule.

Nov. 7

Rieth-Riley Construction’s personal target date to complete the project passes unnoticed as work continues.

Nov. 22

Ongoing work forces postponement of a planned reopening celebration until the spring.

Monday

Project superintendent Gary Davis of Rieth-Riley said a few more chores must be done.

January 2013

Decorative gates to be installed that can be closed to allow Fourth Street to become a pedestrian-only zone for major street festivals.

“I’ll be glad when it’s over. It’s been a chore really,” said Jim Casey, owner of Casey Jewelers in the 300 block of Fourth Street, one of the many downtown shopkeepers who have been obliged to work around orange barrels and hard-hatted workers to compete for sales throughout the fall.

Casey said November was his weakest sales month compared to last year as windy weather blew dust in all directions at the height of street paving preparations. “Some days you couldn’t see across the street,” he said.

The Fourth Street project began Sept. 4 but has dragged on longer than expected due to weather delays and unforeseen logistical problems. Original estimates were that the work would end by early November, but that was extended multiple times.

Still, with paving bricks installed along the entire two-block length of the project, street lights installed and planters at least positioned, Columbus residents say the new look of Fourth Street gets high marks. The only reservation from some store owners is a desire for more parking spaces.

“It’s interesting and attractive,” said Deb Steele, owner of Gramz Bakery on Washington Street near the intersection with Fourth Street. Steele said her bakery and cafe saw sales drop 15 percent to 20 percent during the peak of construction, but things have improved more recently.

Brittany Zoufal, manager of O’Child Children’s Boutique on Washington Street, said she’s glad the project is wrapping up as Christmas shopping hits full stride. Downtown stores, including the boutique, plan to stay open extended hours on Thursdays and Sundays through Christmas and having Fourth Street complete will be helpful.

“We’re trying to make downtown shopping a family thing,” Zoufal said.

Brenda Wyentz, an employee at Fourth Street Bar near the corner of Franklin Street, has seen the project’s fits and starts from her establishment’s bay windows. On Monday at lunch time, a worker installed paving bricks a few feet away from a patron peering through the glass.

Some days, a cloud of dust obscured the other side of Fourth Street for the bar’s patrons. But she thinks the future looks bright. Fourth Street should benefit from bigger crowds when downtown special events are held.

“We’re ready. It will draw people in,” Wyentz said.

Meanwhile, downtown shopper Autumn Lynn Glass said she loves the old-time feel of the new brick-laid street.

“It brings back more of that historic Columbus look,” the 27-year-old Glass said. Her friend, 29-year-old Liz Medley, said she’s impressed how the street’s makeover fits with the rest of downtown.

“It’s like the new street has been there forever,” she said.

One-way traffic has been allowed to flow from Washington to Franklin Street since last week. But the block from Jackson to Washington has sometimes been open, and sometimes closed, depending on whether work crews needed to be present. The entire street was open to traffic by 4 p.m. Monday, though.

“I really think they did a good job,” said Casey, who has operated his Fourth Street jewelry store for 40 years. “The workers were courteous and helpful to our customers. They basically did as good a job as you could expect.”

On Monday, Davis said construction crews still need to place dirt and trees in planters along Fourth Street and install “water boxes” that will funnel basic utilities to mobile vendors when festivals are staged and temporary kiosks are installed for food and drink sales.

Decorative gates that can be closed to make Fourth Street a pedestrian-only zone for major events won’t be erected until January, city officials have said.

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