GARY — Mel Goldman has been operating the Ace Hardware along Broadway in downtown Gary through good times and bad.
Even the downturn in business he says is caused by a recent paving project isn't making him leave.
It doesn't mean he's happy about the project, however, which ran through one of the better sales periods of the year.
Goldman said he saw about a 20-percent loss in business during the project. The downturn seems worse when compared to other area Ace Hardware stores that he says have seen healthy sales growth in the same time period.
Preliminary work on the project began around the first of July; the paving between 4th and 25th avenues only recently wrapped up. Work was being done on temporary striping for the winter during the past week, with permanent markings to be placed in the spring. The paving between 25th and 61st avenues is scheduled to be completed in June.
Esam Sulah, owner of ABC Cellular at 13th Avenue and Broadway, noted that Goldman at least has a parking lot in front of his store. In addition to the work on Broadway, Sulah said, his phone service company also was faced with the side street next to his shop being closed for a couple of weeks.
Sulah estimated he saw a minimum 50-percent drop in business during the work.
He was so grateful to some of the customers who made it to his shop, Sulah said he was hugging and thanking them for braving the road work to get there.
City Council President Ron Brewer, D-at large, also expressed concerns about the project at a recent council meeting.
Councilwoman Rebecca Wyatt, D-First, called it "a mess."
"You can't tell where you are supposed to be going," she said. "There's no arrows."
Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said there appeared to be some disorganization on the state project, but pointed out that the job was "a massive undertaking" that involved a lot of repair work as well as lights, curbing and other features.
The state is paying the lion's share of the project, the mayor noted, and when it is completed there is no question it will be a positive for the city.
"You know sometimes you have to be inconvenienced to make progress," she said.
The cost of all the work being done on Broadway, from U.S. 231 in Crown Point to U.S. 12 in Gary, is $14.8 million, according to state Department of Transportation spokesman Doug Moats. That figure includes decorative crosswalks at Indiana University Northwest, bus shelters and decorative lighting from 25th to 45th avenues, with the city providing some matching funds for the latter.
Moats said in any construction project there always are inconveniences. He said one of the challenges had to do with the lighting project that required protective barriers for pedestrians so business access could be maintained when trenches were dug for the work.
Still, some store owners north of I-80/94 feel they are getting the bad end of the deal. Goldman suggested it would have been better for the businesses if the work had been done in stages, rather than the entire stretch of Broadway.
Brewer said he has heard similar concerns from other businesses in the area.
While it may have been more economical to pave the longer stretch of road, Goldman said the economic impact on the retail companies needs to be taken into account. He doesn't think that was considered at all.
"I think someone should be held accountable for this," he said.
IS IT ENOUGH?
In addition to the disruption to businesses, another concern raised by Brewer had to do with the scope of the project. He was hoping that sidewalks would be improved along Broadway as part of the Indiana Department of Transportation project.
While they are being made handicap accessible at intersections, Brewer said the sidewalks otherwise are in such bad shape people using wheelchairs or the visually impaired cannot use them. He also said updated traffic signals with audio warnings were not installed.
Charles Bradsky, the state transportation department's original project manager for the roadway, said the sidewalk work was looked at initially, but the cost to replace the sidewalks would have more than doubled the cost of the project. Moats said it was determined replacing the sidewalks would have added $9 million and delayed the project by two years.
Brewer also was hoping more curbs and lighting would be improved.
Bradsky, who is now with the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission, said some curb work is being done as part of the project, although Brewer said it is very limited.
Bradsky noted INDOT will work with communities to coordinate efforts to keep costs down on ancillary projects the community wants to do at the same time state transportation projects are underway.
Public Works Director Cloteal LaBroi said that new LED lighting is being installed along Broadway from 25th to 45th avenues during the same time. NIRPC provided about $2.2 million in federal funding for that project, with the city providing matching funds of $285,000, according to LaBroi.
The lighting work is expected to be done by the end of the month. Brewer said he would have liked to have seen additional lighting installed, especially in the midtown section of the city.
The portion of Broadway between 4th Avenue and I-80/94 is expected to be done by Thanksgiving, Brewer said. He is concerned, however, about the impact of cold weather on the quality of the completed road.
Goldman had the same concern. "We don't think the integrity of the blacktop is going to hold up," he said.
Moats replied that paving has to meet temperature specifications before the work is done and testing is done to ensure the specifications are met.
"All paving on this project is meeting all the proper criteria to ensure a quality, long-lasting roadway is paved," he said.