Rifle construction woes prompt city to potentially subsidize affected downtown businesses
Ask some downtown Rifle business owners, and chances are they have been affected in some way, shape or form by major construction on Third Street.
“I’m being double-hit,” Rifle Lock & Safe and Rifle Vacuum Shop owner Don Locke said last week. “They’re not only hitting me from the front, they’re hitting me from the back.”
Locke said the installation of two new power poles and a gas line in the parking lot located between West and Railroad avenues has led to the closure of that area. In addition, he said he’s seen a 75-85% decline in revenue during construction.
The major Downtown Rifle Revitalization Project, which began in mid-March, is expected to wrap up by the end of the summer. A portion of Railroad Avenue — the city’s main thoroughfare — remains closed for construction.
Meanwhile, the closure has caused major traffic congestion issues on alternative routes. Though Whiteriver and West avenues are usually meant for residential traffic, it’s now not uncommon to encounter stop-and-go traffic there during rush hours.
Having so far cost $3.8 million through a contract with KSK Construction Group of Grand Junction, the project is set to fix Railroad Avenue and Third Street infrastructure, beautify curb appeal and align parking spot angles to 45 degrees, among other features.
But for Locke, a 40-year business owner who said he also endured another similar downtown project in the early 1980s, construction is impacting parking and foot traffic.
“We were closed for almost a whole week, and there were parts of it where people were having to walk up the alley or park on West Avenue,” he said.
Other days, Locke said he’d cut one key and call it quits around 12:30 p.m.
“There were afternoons we just shut the doors,” he said. “I’d tell my employee to go home, and I’d just go play golf.”
TaxKeeping LLC owner Candy Hammerich said her business hasn’t been as hard hit as others. She said she has heard from some customers who are having to park farther away than usual.
“We do have people who do come into the office to sign forms,” she said. “Now that the bridge on (U.S.) Highway 6 has been fixed, it’s taken a lot of traffic off.”
After also undergoing renovation, construction on the bridge on U.S. Highway 6 was recently completed, which helped alleviate some traffic issues.
Hammerich and Locke agreed that the city should provide financial support to businesses affected by downtown construction.
“It could be $500, it could be $2,000,” Locke said. “Anything helps.”
Rifle City Council spent time during its May 19 meeting discussing how they could provide some financial assistance to downtown businesses affected by construction and road closures.
The city is already working to bolster downtown commerce through other strategies. Recently, the Rifle Humanity Restoration Crew hosted another “Hello Rodeo,” where they handed out $800 worth of coupons to shop downtown.
Meanwhile, the city has also erected signs around the city and used social media to encourage people to shop locally.
During May 19’s meeting, council members discussed the possibility of using COVID-19 relief funds provided through The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), a $2.2 trillion economic stimulus bill passed by Congress in March 2020.
Through that, the city helped distribute more than $650,000 in forgivable loans to area businesses financially affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Rifle City Council Member Ed Green asked if the city would carry any legal risk from such a loan program.
“I can see us providing funds from COVID relief to these businesses,” he said. “But is it even legal to distribute general funds to private entities?”
The point was moot since COVID-19 funds are now depleted, but the city is exploring other financial assistance options. One possibility would be to reappropriate upwards of $75,000 out of the general fund toward downtown businesses affected by the construction.
This could provide about $2,000 to businesses located between Fifth and Second streets. Some businesses would have to meet certain prerequisites when they apply. These criteria could depend on whether a business’ bottom line is affected by foot traffic, among other possible requirements.
“You have a project that’s causing a lot of disruption to a geographical area of the city,” city attorney Jim Neu said.
The stimulus, however, is also pending approval from the Economic Development Collaborative, Neu said. The EDC is responsible for promoting economic activity and providing economic oversight for any given community.
Mayor Pro Tem Theresa Hamilton said the Rifle Downtown Development Authority talked to some business owners who reported losing between $1,000 to $3,000 per month due to downtown construction.
The possibility of financial assistance for impacted businesses is slated for further discussion during the June 2 Rifle City Council meeting.
Reporter Ray K. Erku can be reached at 612-423-5273 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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