Downtown boosters are working on strategies to support businesses along a stretch of West Milwaukee Street that will be under construction for much of 2021.
One strategy will launch in coming weeks, months before construction will begin, Emily Arthur, executive director of the downtown business improvement district, said Wednesday.Milwaukee Street will be reconstructed from River Street to the Five Points intersection to become more pedestrian friendly, improve traffic flow and provide a more cohesive aesthetic with the rest of downtown, parts of which have received major face-lifts in recent years.
Business owners and residents were invited to an online forum Wednesday to ask questions and voice concerns about the $5.9 million project.
Construction, including sidewalk replacement, will begin in spring and is expected to wrap up in late fall 2021.
Shoppers will begin seeing fliers and handouts during the holiday shopping season, advising them how to patronize businesses during construction, Arthur said.
The business improvement district and Downtown Janesville Inc. plan to launch a campaign to remind people that downtown remains open for business during the project.
Signs, fliers and social media already have been identified as avenues for getting the message out, but Arthur said she is open to more ideas about how to attract people downtown in spite of construction obstacles.
Arthur said she wishes construction could have been done this year as businesses face lighter foot traffic anyway because of the pandemic.
Some people have suggested pushing the project back so businesses would not have to endure a second consecutive year of challenges, Arthur said.
The project will be overseen by the state Department of Transportation and will receive about $1.3 million in federal funding. It will have to stay on schedule to get that funding, Arthur said.
The remaining $4.6 million of the cost will be funded locally through a tax-increment finance district, utility funds and other revenues, said Paul Woodard, city public works director.
The reconstruction will be completed in two phases going from east to west, he said.
Sidewalk replacements will be completed one business at a time, and property owners will be billed, Woodard said. The project will generate an estimated $80,000 total in special assessments for sidewalks.
Property owners will be billed an estimated $35 to $45 per lineal foot of 5-foot-wide sidewalk. The special assessments can be paid over five years, city officials said.
Questions during the forum focused mostly on special assessments for sidewalks. A couple of them concerned landscaping plans.
Traffic patterns and parking will be mostly unchanged by the project. However, raised intersections will promote slower traffic movement, Woodard said.
Traffic signals at three intersections will be removed and replaced with stop signs. Woodard said the city hopes to eliminate some of the weaving of traffic caused by left-turn lanes.
The street will become slightly narrower to allow for more terrace space for pedestrians, landscaping and public furniture such a benches and tables, Woodard said.
The project was sent out for bids this week. A general contractor likely will be chosen in coming days, he said.