Merchants close to the site where the building once known as the Main Street Mall is under construction told Park City leaders Thursday night the work is driving away business.
There has been tension in recent months as the building, one of the largest on Main Street, undergoes a major renovation that has become the symbol of an extraordinary round of private sector investment along Main Street. There are construction projects up and down the street, but the site of the former Main Street Mall has seemed to be the most visible and the most worrisome for businesses.
The merchants appeared at a Park City Council meeting, telling the elected officials that sales have dropped sharply during the construction. The building is being redone with residential square footage on the upper floors and commercial spaces on the Main Street level.
Construction impacts have included the closure of the sidewalk at the site and the loss of some parking spots. There are also complaints that the construction zone is unsightly, even after the crews put holiday lights up on the Main Street-facing fence attached decorative skis to the fence. The businesses uphill from the construction zone say pedestrians do not venture past the site. Those steps away from the site are also concerned.
In comments to Mayor Jack Thomas and the City Council, merchants spoke about a drop in the number of people stopping by.
Monty Coates, who owns a jewelry and home store called Pine, said sales have dropped more than 30 percent during the winter. He said the pedestrian flow has improved since November, but impacts on business continue. Coates suggested there be flexibility with the Main Street-facing fence during March and during the summer.
Karen Terzian, the owner of Terzian Galleries, said it is difficult for people to see the signs of the businesses uphill from the construction zone. She said sales at the gallery are "very down." Terzian said perhaps a sign could be posted listing the names of the businesses that are uphill from the site.
Jane Schaffner, the owner of home accessories and gift store La Niche, said the situation should not be occurring during the busy ski season. She said she is worried about summer as well.
"It not only looks like a war zone, but it looks dead," she said.
The discussion on Thursday was called to address the wide impacts of construction along Main Street, but most of the comments centered on the former Main Street Mall site. The developers will build 15 condominiums on the upstairs floors and approximately 30,000 square feet of retail space on the Main Street level. The work started with the beginning of the demolition in midsummer 2013. The developers hope to complete the project in December.
Alison Butz, the executive director of the Historic Park City Alliance, has been one of Main Street's key figures in the talks with City Hall. She said merchants close to the site are hurting. Butz requested there be more flexibility with the fence and associated traffic barriers during the ski season. Parking along Main Street could possibly be reopened under that scenario, she said.
Some of the elected officials expressed frustration with the situation. City Councilor Liza Simpson said the aesthetics were discussed late in 2013. The site remains ugly even with the holiday lights, she said, quipping that she could make the site look better herself with spray paint. City Councilor Dick Peek, a contractor, said the construction strategy has created difficulties and questioned the type of equipment being used.
There was also discussion about shifting some of the construction impacts onto the upper Park Avenue side of the site. Doing so would almost certainly draw opposition from the largely residential street, though.
City Manager Diane Foster indicated City Hall staffers plan to meet with the Historic Park City Alliance and speak with the contractor over the next week. She said she will provide the elected officials an update at a meeting on Thursday.
In an interview afterward, a project representative described the breadth of the construction -- 91,000 square feet stretching 230 feet along the Main Street streetscape. Rinaldo Hunt, who is with R H Brokerage Services, Inc., said the developers have been in talks with the Historic Park City Alliance.
"I'd like to work to get a solution that works with the city, that works with the neighbors and allows us to execute an efficient construction project," he said, acknowledging that it is impossible to eliminate all the issues.