Construction tearing up Washington downtown

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 8, 2003

Hemphill Construction workers remove old asphalt and brick paving from the two-block stretch of Washington Street between Grove and Clay Tuesday. Access to the businesses near the construction area is limited to pedestrian traffic on the sidewalks as crews work to restore the roadway with brick and landscaping. (C. TODD SHERMANThe Vicksburg Post)

Downtown merchants may pay a big price for Washington Street renovations in lost business, but several said it will be worth it in the end.

From the window at Frederick’s, a family-owned shoe store at 1218 Washington St., Norma Massey had a front-row seat Tuesday as heavy construction equipment tore out asphalt and brick paving.

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While the project is ongoing, customers will face parking challenges and have to navigate orange construction fencing.

The work area of Grove and Clay streets will eventually expand south, replacing brick paving along five downtown blocks.

“I’ve talked to customers and nobody seems to be bothered by it,” Massey said. “It’s been only two days so it’s kind of hard to know.”

When complete, the locally funded $2.6 million project will include landscaping and new lighting, and two-way traffic and parallel parking will return for the first time in a quarter-century.

Work is being done blocks at a time and is expected to be completed by August.

“It’s going to be a pain, but in the long-run it’s going to be the right thing to do,” said Steven Marcus of Marcus Furniture, 1210 Washington St.

During the previous, federally financed urban renewal in the 1970s, Washington Street was made one-way and the 1300 and 1400 blocks were sectioned off as a downtown pedestrian mall. The project was considered a failure by many and the current and previous administrations have worked to return the street to its former configuration.

“There’s no doubt about it, (two-way streets) increase traffic,” Marcus said.

While the roadway is torn up, the contractor will also replace some of the older water lines under Washington Street.

Money is coming from a $17.5 million bond issue authorized by the city adminsitration after taking office in 2001. Mayor Laurence Leyens has been spearheading the effort and wanted it completed last summer.

Michael Bailey, owner of the Daily Grind Cafe, 1100 Washington St., said the biggest problem he has seen so far is that customers are having to walk to get to his coffee shop and restaurant, but said he supports the city’s initiative.

“Once it’s finished, I think it’s going to drastically improve Vicksburg as a whole, not just downtown,” Bailey said.

Leyens, who also owns a building in the 1200 block of Washington Street, said he thinks the work will ultimately enhance downtown business.

“It’s a hard time right now, but it’s a necessary task,” Leyens said. “In the meantime, we’re asking the community to support the local merchants by shopping downtown.