Main Street grins, bears it
Skip Bell and his Pour House gang were getting a laugh over Carbondale’s $540,000 downtown improvement construction project last week.A track-hoe covering the width of Main Street’s sidewalk was ripping up the concrete and dropping chunks in a skid loader in front of the Palomino Grill.Construction workers in T-shirts and hard hats were busy at work with their shovels next to the track-hoe, digging at the newly exposed dirt and rock.The 300 block of Main Street was completely blocked off to vehicular and foot traffic, and Bell said that in the street in front of the Pour House, five guys were huddled together reading blueprints.”Two of the five were scratching their heads,” Bell said with a laugh. “We were cracking up. I’d have killed for a camera.”Scenes such as Bell describes are not unusual these days, as Carbondale enters the third week of what it hopes will be an eight- to nine-week downtown improvement project, awarded to Gould Construction of Glenwood Springs.The 300 and 400 blocks of Main Street will feature wider sidewalks, trees, ornamental light poles, pedestrian bulb-outs at each of the two corners, and a plaza along the east side of the U S West Building extending into Fourth Street.By Wednesday last week, the entire south of the Main Street sidewalk had been ripped up and removed, and about half of the north side remained.Both ends of the 300 block of Main Street are blocked with yellow tape and concrete barriers.Roberta Lundquist, a supervisor for A-1 Traffic Control, directed pedestrians and traffic at the Pour House end of Main Street, while A-1’s Norman Sisco did the same at the Miser’s Mercantile end.It’s common for pedestrians to cautiously approach Sisco and Lundquist with the question, “Can I get in there?” The pair usually instructs people to the alleys, and back doors to the stores.Wednesday, Lundquist was making the alley rounds, putting up store name signs on back doors and side doors.”This is to keep foot traffic going,” Lundquist explained as she placed a sign on the Main Street Gallery & Framer’s side door. “It’s not really in my job description, but we’re trying to go the extra mile. We’re killing them with kindness.”The killing must be working, because business owners on Main Street said Gould Construction and the town are working with them to make the project as painless as possible.”We’re keeping a positive attitude,” said Main Street Gallery & The Framer owner Frank Norwood, as he worked on framing an autographed jersey of Colorado Avalanche hockey star Ray Bourque.Norwood said there were three hours the day before when construction crews were directly in front of the Gallery’s door. “That was a bother, but you’ve got to accept it’s going to take some of that to get the whole project done.”Norwood said downtown merchants are concerned.”But I think we’re looking at the long term, and hopefully, it’s going to bring more people to town,” he said.He also complimented public works director Larry Ballenger for keeping merchants posted, “And Janet Buck has been a great liaison,” he said of the assistant town planner. “I think they are doing the best they can.”A couple doors up at the Pour House, owner Skip Bell said his lunch and dinner business is probably down 10 to 15 percent, but he hasn’t been affected as much as expected. Some of Bell’s customers come in through the back door, depending on what’s going on at the front.Bell also said the town and construction crews are “going out of their way” to cooperate with business people. For example, during Tuesday’s lunch rush, a jackhammer was pounding away at the sidewalk at the front door, making a huge racket. Bell asked the worker if he couldn’t go do his job somewhere else for a while, “and bing, no problem. He was gone.”At Main Street Spirits, between the Framer and Pour House, owner Russ Campbell said business is off a little, “but it’s not that bad.”Town officials have said that after sidewalk demolition is finished, utility and irrigation lines will be installed, and new sidewalks poured. After that, the town will put in the trees, street lights and pedestrian bulb-outs with colored pavers.The 400 block of Main Street is next in line for the same treatment before the summer tourism season.The project is funded through a 10-year, 1.5 mill property tax Carbondale voters approved in 1999, plus a $200,000 grant from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs.Other downtown and Main Street improvements are planned for subsequent years.
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