Restaurants on and around the 300 block of South Fifth Avenue are losing business because of construction on the lot near the Ann Arbor District Library, owners say.

The block between East Liberty and East William streets has been closed since August due to the construction of an underground parking structure in the space and is scheduled to reopen to through traffic in mid-to-late 2011.

In the mean time, the owners of Jerusalem Garden, Afternoon Delight and Earthen Jar estimate they’ve lost anywhere from 10- to 20-percent of their customers because of the construction, which has caused a lack of traffic flow and limited parking for the block.

While some of the business owners on the street said they believe the construction is worthwhile, Ali Ramlawi, owner of Jerusalem Garden, said he thinks the construction is somewhat of a waste.

“It definitely does not even come close to being worth it, unless they’re digging for gold,” Ramlawi said.

Sim Sethi, manager at Earthen Jar, has a different take on the construction. Sethi said he knew when the city announced the closure of Fifth Ave. business would be adversely affected, but he thinks the construction is for the best because in the end it will provide more access to businesses in the area by providing extra parking.

Tom Hackett, owner of Afternoon Delight, a diner located on the corner of Liberty Street and Fifth Avenue, said he thinks the lack of parking on the street affects his business, though he said the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, which is spearheading the project, has been “very helpful.”

“The DDA has been giving us parking stickers to give our customers to pay for their parking,” Hackett said.

The stickers give customers a free hour of parking anywhere in Ann Arbor, which allows Afternoon Delight to offer a cheap parking alternative despite the construction, he said.

Hackett added that while so far the loss in business has been gradual, he believes it will increase in the wintertime.

Though his business has also been affected by the construction, Herb David of Herb David Guitar Studio says online business has made up for the lack of walk-up customers.

Susan Pollay, executive director of the DDA, said that even though the construction hurts local businesses now, it will help them in the end. According to the DDA, the goal of the project is to strengthen the connection between the campus and Main Street areas and have more overall activity downtown, by doing things like adding extra parking spaces.

“It’s never easy to be near construction,” Pollay said. “Construction has a short-term (negative) impact, but the long-term goal is to strengthen this situation.”

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