Monday, January 4, 2010

Front Street Improvement Project begins today

If you drove downtown today, you probably saw the barricades. Work begins on the North Front Street Improvement Project today. To bring everybody up to speed, this project will replace 100+/- year old sewer and water lines. Also, the City of Wilmington (at the urging of Wilmington Downtown, Inc) is going to re-do all of the streetscape improvements.

This means new asphalt, new sidewalks, all new trees and landscaping, new street furniture, new trash cans, new (and magnificently preserved) brick pavers. I know some will complain about ripping out trees, but we'll be planting more than we cut down. Besides, many of the trees on Front Street are the wrong type, and the roots grow out at the surface creating trip hazards throughout downtown. The roots have also wrapped themselves around the utilities we are replacing. The new trees are specifically bred to grow in urban environments. They will also have new tree grates, allowing for a better walking experience.

Why are we doing this, well the Vision 2020 Plan recommended doing all new utilities to support future growth. It also suggested turning N. Front Street back to two way traffic (which was completed in 2007). Part of that plan, and a subsquent 2006 Infrastructure and Retail Strategy Plan said that we needed to beautify our downtown; making it more pedestrian and retail friendly. And the obvious, we NEED to replace the aging infrastructure. If we had a failure or spill, things would be a lot worse than the impact this project is going to have.

So this project will do that. We'll be getting wider sidewalks as well; each side will grow by almost 18 inches. Additionally the sidewalks will be more level, and with the better tree grates it will feel so much bigger.

Tomorrow, Tuesday January 5th at 10:30, I'll be joining the Mayor, Bill Saffo, the President of the Utility Authority, and the contractor for a Ground Breaking Ceremony at Front and Market Streets. Later in the day, we are hosting a "Meet the Contractor" for the public, downtown business owners/residents, and anyone else who'd like to come by. The meeting will begin at 4:00 pm in the office of Wilmington Downtown. Click here for a map and directions.

This project will cause some hardships for our downtown businesses, but I remain optimistic. During the project, only about 20 parking spaces will be lost. Only one block at a time will be shut down to vehicular traffic. The sidewalks will always remain open. Many of these businesses have pedestrian based customers, so they need to still work on getting them in the door and closing the sale.

To help out, the City of Wilmington is committing $30,000 to TV advertisements. Wilmington Downtown has leveraged some media partnerships to run PSA's promoting downtown as a destination, encouraging people to park in the City's parking decks, and shop local: shop downtown. The City's message will be similar.

The city's signage for the project is great. They read something like: "IMPROVEMENT UNDERWAY - WALK ON IN". "STORES OPEN - WALK ON IN." You can see the graphic by clicking here. Everywhere you see a "no through traffic" or "road closed ahead" you'll see those companion signs. We at Wilmington Downtown also have some things up our sleaves.

We are working with various groups to promote different types of events downtown during and in the project. We want to draw people into the project to see all of the great shops downtown. We hope to have large original artwork on the construction fencing. We are also working with the existing events by helping to promote and encourage them to stay where they are.

Check our website often, we'll be updating it frequently. Also be sure to follow me on I'll be posting any boil water advisories there, as well as progress reports (in under 140 characters of course).

If you are interested in sponsoring, coordinating or being a part of any events, please let me know - When these two blocks are completed, we'll be begging the city to get the rest of downtown completed.

Thanks, and Happy New Year - oh yeah, one of my resolutions is to do this more, so keep reminding me to blog.

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