Since early June, State Street has been torn up between William Street and North University Avenue. Blockades seal off the area, leaving only a few narrow pathways for pedestrians to navigate from downtown Ann Arbor to campus. The construction blockage has also cut off vehicular access and taken away patio space from local businesses.
Jim Saborio, the owner of Comet Coffee, a local cafe nestled inside Nickels Arcade, said as the creation of social districts in Downtown Ann Arbor transformed Main Street’s culture over the past year, State Street’s business rhythms were left outdated.
“I feel like the two areas of town are very, very different now,” Saborio said. “There just seems (sic) to be fewer people (visiting State Street) than before. I feel like this summer in particular, this area was quiet.”
In June as the construction project responsible for closing down most of State Street commenced. This project, funded by the City of Ann Arbor and the Downtown Development Authority (DDA), is part of the People-Friendly Streets initiative and will convert State Street into the City’s first curbless roadway. City officials hope the project will increase pedestrian safety, enhance foot traffic and strengthen local businesses, according to the project website.
The project is broken into two phases. The first and current phase was anticipated to finish around Labor Day. However, three months into the construction, the finish line is still out of sight. While the project has run into sporadic incidents, including a water main break in early June, Robert Kellar, communication specialist of Ann Arbor Public Services Administration, said the prolonged delay is due to a miscommunication with the contractor, and the construction will continue for the rest of the calendar year.
“The basic reason for the delay is that the pace of the project did not go as the contractor expected, Kellar wrote in an email to The Michigan Daily. “There wasn’t one thing that caused it. The contractor’s schedule has the road reopening on Oct. 7. Work remains for the year, but they will do that by occupying the parking spaces.”
Maura Thomson, communications manager for the DDA, said once the construction is completed, the curbless street will bring direct benefits for State Street businesses.
“One of the keys of this curbless design is it gives businesses the flexibility to use the space in front of their business,” Thomson said. “(Curbless design) allows for much more flexibility for the event organizer to arrange their tents, and the visitors no longer have to deal with the curbs or other trip hazards.”
AJ Davidson, president of Bivouac and the State Street District business association, said he is excited about the prospect of the project but recognizes the huge toll construction has taken on businesses.
“I think that the improvements will be overall good for the street, so I’m excited for them to occur, and I like the curbless design,” Davidson said. “We’ve definitely seen a lot less customers in the store during the construction time. But I feel the worst for the restaurants.”
During construction, outdoor dining capacity for local diners is restricted due to limited space along the curb. The project delays and future construction plans have made some restaurants and pubs wonder whether the possible benefits of the new design will be worth the disruptions to their business.
Erica Jolokai, General Manager of Red Hawk Bar & Grill, said she noticed a decline of year-round resident customers due to the construction..
“It’s important that people drive by and see that you exist,” Jolokai said. “Many of the people who live here in Ann Arbor are not coming anywhere near State Street because it’s an absolute mess. People just don’t want to be near the construction site.”
As the construction extends deep into the University’s fall semester, Jeff More, the owner of Ashley’s, said he is concerned about the visibility of the bar to new students.
“I think many students establish a pattern of the places they want to go to from early on,” More said. “I am worried that (the construction) will affect the students establishing their socialized dining patterns and thus impact us in the long-term.”
Phase two of the project is planned to commence in Spring 2023. Phase two will take place on State Street from North University Avenue to Washington Street.
Daily Staff Reporters Chen Lyu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.