The city never warned Brian Coley, owner of Coley’s American Bistro, that it would be tearing up the street in front of his business.
The city began construction on Sixth Street on Aug. 22 as a part of the Flat Branch sewer replacement project. Coley said he showed up that day to find contractors blocking off the street in front of his restaurant. The street has been closed ever since from Elm Street to Broadway.
The city is also replacing the existing cast iron water mains under Sixth Street with PVC piping as part of the project, according to a news release from the city.
“I didn’t even get in contact with them about it until they had a water main issue,” Coley said.
Patricia Hayles, a spokeswoman for the city’s Utilities Department, said contractors shut off the wrong valve, cutting off water to Coley’s last month. Coley said his restaurant had no water for an afternoon and was on a boil-water advisory for the following 24 hours.
“You can imagine how hard it is to run a restaurant without water,” Coley said.
Public Works Department spokesman Barry Dalton said the city does not directly notify individual residents or business owners about road closures.
“We put out a press release and on social media,” Dalton said. “We encourage people to look there and on the city website.”
Coley said he doesn’t know if advance notice would have helped him prepare, but if the city had told him how long the project was going to take, it would have sparked some questions.
“What is the scope of the project? Are there any ways to minimize street closure?”
Coley said he has noticed a decline in customers compared to past years because of the construction, which has affected his business for four MU home football games and the Roots N Blues N BBQ Festival. Those events normally bring more business to the bistro.
“It couldn’t have happened at a worse time,” Coley said.
The bistro has an outdoor seating area that remains useable, but the situation isn’t ideal.
“With all the dust and noise from the construction, it’s not very pleasant to sit out there,” Coley said.
Coley said it is especially frustrating that the city doesn’t seem to be making much progress. He said no work was done for a full three weeks.
When Coley called the city about the delay, he was told that it was waiting on approval to close down a section of Broadway and that that approval would take two weeks.
“The city is waiting on the city for approval,” Coley said. “That doesn’t make a lot of sense.”
Hayles said contractors needed to construct the water main at Sixth Street and Broadway before they could finish their work south of Broadway.
“When you have an intersection as busy as Sixth Street and Broadway, you need approval from several places before closing it down,” Hayles said.
She said the approval came last week.
The city closed the intersection on Monday and Tuesday nights to install the new water main.
Hayles said contractors still need to finish working on the water main south of Broadway. They need to run several tests to check the water pressure. She said the project should be completed by Nov. 10.
Boone County Southern District Commissioner Fred Parry, who represents the commission on the Downtown Leadership Council, said it’s hard for small businesses these days, especially because of the threat of online retailers.
“I’m sensitive to that because I spent 23 years as a small-business owner,” Parry said, emphasizing that he was speaking as a member of the downtown council and a customer of Coley’s, not as a county commissioner.
“I think it’s problematic when projects get stalled,” Parry said. “I know that water main needed to be replaced, but when a project stalls there needs to at least be an understanding and a sympathy for the small business.”
Parry said he thinks the city needs to communicate better with businesses. He wants the city to set a policy stating that it must give at least 30 days notice if construction is going to impact a business.
“When the Blue Note has a concert on Ninth Street, they have to get permission from their neighbors to close it down,” Parry said. “So why doesn’t the city do that when they’re closing down the street?”
The Downtown Leadership Council will discuss the issue at its next meeting at 4 p.m. Oct. 17 in the Daniel Boone City Building.