Downtown Janesville business owners face summer of construction

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Marcia Nelesen
Saturday, July 26, 2014

JANESVILLE--A 2015 repair project that will tear up Main Street for months between Centerway and St. Lawrence Avenue is giving downtown business owners mixed feelings of dread and gratitude.

“It's pretty scary,” said Joni Bozart, owner of Carousel Consignments, 31 S. Main St.

“Half of you is really happy that they care to make it beautiful and make it the template for all of downtown,” she said.

“The other thing is the ability to get through it the best we can.”

The city is sharing more information about the project at a meeting Tuesday evening.

“We are real anxious for the meeting,” Bozart said.

“We really don't have any idea how many months it's going to take, how torn up it's going to be. They were telling us they would keep access to all business at all times," she said.

Dennis Ryan, assistant city engineer, said staff understands the concerns and will do the best it can to maintain access to businesses. But access could vary, especially during the six weeks or so when water and gas mains are replaced.

Mike Payne, city engineer, said the city hired the design firm that redid State Street in Madison and built a new streetscape while maintaining access, specifically pedestrian access.

City staff still is evaluating some aspects of construction, such as whether parking will be allowed along one side of Main Street, if vehicles will be allowed and where any detour routes would run. Those are likely topics for discussion Tuesday.

The intent is to maintain pedestrian traffic to businesses at all times, Payne said.

Adding complication at some businesses are underground vaults used in the 1800s for delivery of coal, wood or merchandise into basements. The vaults extend under the sidewalks.

The 2015 project is scheduled to begin in late May or early June and end in early fall. The farmers market would relocate during construction.

The half-mile project will cost about $1.46 million. The city will pay about $380,000, and state and federal money will cover the rest. The total does not include the cost of replacing water mains.

Work will be more extensive than a normal resurfacing because water and gas mains will be replaced, Ryan said.

Property owners will be assessed for replacement of sidewalks in front of their stores up to the terrace. The city will pay to install colored concrete in the terrace between the curb and sidewalk to create a uniform look, Payne said.

The city wants to make a visual statement consistent with ongoing riverfront improvement plans, Payne said.

Other aesthetic improvements will include a fresh look for concrete planters, new trash receptacles and streetlights similar to those along East Court and River streets.

Overgrown trees will be replaced with trees more appropriate for a downtown, Ryan said.

Business owners whose properties include old delivery vaults met last week with city staff to explore their options. The vaults allowed businesses in the late 1800s to unload wood, coal or merchandise into basements.

The city doesn't want to be involved in filling the vaults because they are adjacent to building foundations, Payne said.

Some owners might be forced to remove vaults in poor condition, and that could be expensive, Payne and Ryan said.

Payne estimated the project section of Main Street includes about a dozen vaults.

“If you went down the street, it is pretty obvious,” Payne said. “Typically, a cast iron frame has been filled in from the top with concrete.”

Because removing them would be expensive, the city figures some of the vaults will stay, Ryan said.

"We have to figure a way around them.”

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