Birmingham is looking to reconstruct a large swath of downtown's sidewalks, and residents have one more chance either voice approval or protest.
At its July 23 meeting, the Birmingham City Commission declared that a proposed project to replace the sidewalks along a stretch Pierce and Merrill was a necessity, scheduling a public hearing of confirmation for Aug. 27.
Still, some downtown business owners aren't happy with the project and have asked city engineers to reconsider the timing — spring and early summer 2013 — a period that is oftentimes the busiest of the year for many restaurant and shop owners.
"We all rely on the summer," Thomas Bloom, the owner of , said during the July 23 meeting. "Summer erally pushes us through the year."
Parts of Pierce, Merrill passed over during Shain Park project
The proposed construction project includes the stretch of sidewalks along Merill from South Old Woodward to Pierce, and along Pierce from Maple to Merrill. According to Paul O'Meara, replacing these sidewalks is a project that's long overdue.
As part of the construction of , O'Meara said the city made several improvements to surrounding streets in 2009 and 2010, including replacing tow blocks worth of sidewalks on Pierce Street between Merrill and Brown.
However, O'Meara said at the time, several business owners asked the city not to finish the rest of Pierce, noting the poor economy coupled with ongoing construction may further drive away customers and diners.
"Since that time, the other Shain Park-area projects have been completed, leaving the remaining two blocks of Pierce Street looking tired and old," O'Meara writes in his report to the commission. "Further, the block of Merrill Street connecting Pierce Street to South Old Woodward Avenue is looking similarily old."
According to O'Meara, the two blocks of Pierce was first paved in 1915 while Merrill Street was paved in 1929. Many of the decorative street lamps in that area haven't been replaced since the 1970's.
Property owners would pay to replace sidewalk and trees, city to pay for everything else
The proposed project is made up of several components:
- Install and replace all needed water mains and sewer lines in the area, particularly those lines that are more than 50 years old.
- Lay new concrete on both streets. "...(T)he pavement has been in service well past its expected service life," O'Meara said.
- Replace sidewalks that are not in conformance with current design standards.
- Remove and replace all struggling and dying street trees.
- Remove and replace decorative street lights.
Since a large part of the project is expected to benefit both the city and area shops and restaurants, business owners along Merill and Pierce would be part of a special assessment district, which splits the total price of the project among the city and private property owners.
According to the proposed plan, Birmingham would pay for all costs related to the streets — including new concrete pavement, sewer lines, water mains and street lighting.
Meanwhile, adjacent business owners would be asked to pay 75 percent of the cost for replacing the sidewalks and street trees. The city would pay the remaining 25 percent.
Based on anticipated construction bid prices, O'Meara said he expects the project to cost $9 per square foot of right-of-way space, measured from the property line to the back of the curb.
In addition, some businesses may have to shell out more money if they're determined to be in a yet-to-be-created sewer lateral assessment district. These properties include those who's sewer laterals extends into the construction zone on Pierce or Merrill, and haven't been replaced in the past 40-50 years. O'Meara said he expects the price to replace the sewer laterals to be $50 per foot.
Project could be an 'absolute crusher' to area businesses
The biggest concern so far is the timing of the project. According to the proposed plans, the city wants to begin early in March 2013 and attempt to finish by the end of June.
However Bloom said the reason the project was postponed in 2009 still applies in 2012, and if constructions occurs during the spring and early summer, area businesses will see a dip in profits.
"There's more foot traffic in downtown Birmingham than I think I've ever seen it," Bloom said. "I feel this would be an absolute crusher to the business ... if we did it in those months."
Bloom suggested moving construction to August and September, however O'Meara said the city needs three months of relatively clear weather for paving.
"We can't be paving the road in October or November because of the weather," he said, adding whichever contractor is hired will be offered a bonus for finishing on time.
According to the proposed plans, the construction project would be divided into four phases. The first involves all underground work, during which the two streets will be closed to parking and through traffic, though a temporary sidewalk will be set up for pedestrians.
During the second and third phase, Pierce Street will be split into two sections. For two weeks at a time, each side would be completely closed to traffic and parking, alternating which side is open or closed. During this period, old pavement would be removed while new concrete is poured.
During the fourth and final phase of the project, the sidewalks would be replaced. Once a sidewalk is removed in front of a building, the contractor will be required to pour a new sidewalk that same day.
"The contractor will be required to time the removal and replacement of the vital sidewalks ... in such a way that the sidewalks are closed for the shortest time possible," the plan reads.
"Access to each business' front door will remain open the majority of the project," the plan goes on. "Although vehicle traffic will be blocked off, pedestrian traffic will be encouraged through the area with signs and construction fencing."
Replacing all the sidewalks should take around seven to 10 days, O'Meara said.