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Delays keep stores empty
Drainage work may stretch out until January, and that has business owners worried.
By JODIE TILLMAN, Times Staff Writer
Published October 4, 2007
[Zach Boyden-Holmes | Times]
Workers replace old pipes at Adams Street and Florida Avenue in downtown New Port Richey. Steve's Excavating and Paving says unexpected factors like old utility lines and high water tables are slowing the project.
NEW PORT RICHEY - Christina's Restaurant owner Maria Restrepo despairs at the state of her lunchtime rush these days.
Empty booths. Bored servers. Absence of regulars.
"We understand it's a slow season, but this is unbearable," said Restrepo, who is cutting back workers' hours because of the slowdown. In 16 years, she said, "it's never been like this."
One obvious reason for the downturn, according to Restrepo and a handful of other downtown business owners: a city drainage project that has left streets and parking spaces off limits - and is three months behind schedule.
"It's been very aggravating," said Peter Girouard, who estimates business at his barbershop has been down 80 percent since construction began four months ago. "My main gripe is how long it's taken."
One of the major public works projects under way this year, the $2-million upgrade is intended to improve the city's ability to handle stormwater.
Workers with contractor Steve's Excavating and Paving have been replacing old pipes, starting at Central Avenue and Adams Street, moving south, eventually across Main Street.
They have run into a number of unforeseen problems, said Robert Rivera, the city's construction services manager. Among them are the discovery of old utility lines and, more significantly, high water tables that have complicated efforts to install a piece of equipment that pulls solid materials from water destined for Orange Lake.
"It wasn't just one thing," said Rivera. "There are multiple problems happening at once."
The entire project was supposed to be complete by October. Now that date is looking more like January, he said.
Work is stuck at Adams and Florida Avenue, where workers are trying to install the equipment, which was already a few weeks late getting to the city because of design problems, said Rivera. Once this part is completed, he said, the rest should move at a quicker pace. He said employees will start working weekends, and he added that the city is requiring workers to clean up Adams and Florida streets and repave before they can proceed across Main.
None of which is much solace to those business owners, some of whom complained to City Council members on Tuesday night.
Shutting down Adams Street has meant shoppers can't use the parking spaces behind Christina's. The alternative on a busy day is to park on Main Street, often on the opposite side, meaning that many elderly patrons must cross Main Street. And that can be dangerous.
"Main Street is not pedestrian friendly," said Girouard. "You're an 80-year-old man trying to cross and nobody stops?" Rather than risk it, he and others say, many senior citizens just aren't coming anymore.
City council members asked administrators to meet with the business owners. They also asked City Manager Scott Miller to see whether Steve's Excavating and Paving should be held liable for the delays. "It's excuse after excuse," said Mayor Dan Tipton.
Some customers have stumbled upon other ways to get to their businesses of choice. Wednesday afternoon, an elderly man drove down Adams, around a construction sign, and slowly moved over dirt and gravel and into a parking space. He got out and meandered around a row of concrete forms taller than him. "Bless him," said Girouard, watching.
The man came inside and sat down in a chair for a trim. "I didn't think I could turn around," he said. Girouard patted him on the shoulder and said, "You did the right thing."
City Council gave final approval Tuesday to a $49-million expansion plan by Morton Plant North Bay Hospital. The hospital's campus would nearly double in size by the end of 2010. The expansion includes a three-story patient wing, a four-story medical office building and a new walk-in clinic.