Downtown Waukesha business owners worried about construction's effects

Todd Ponath
Construction crews begin work on West Main Street in Downtown Waukesha on Tuesday, March 10. The road is closed to traffic but there is access to the businesses that line the construction project between Clinton Street and West Avenue.
Published on: 3/9/2015

Get ready, the road construction in downtown Waukesha is about to pick up.

And while business owners understand the necessity for new roads and upgrading underground utilities, it doesn't mean they have to like it — especially with this year's project being so close to the roadwork that was done in 2014.

"The construction last year hurt my business a great deal, and I anticipate the construction this year will virtually stop sales for me," said Joan Skimmons, owner of River's End Gallery.

Skimmons' gallery at 380 W. Main St. is within the boundaries of this year's road construction, which will close the street in front of her business for an extended time.

City of Waukesha Project Engineer Alex Damien said the plan was to start Phase 2 of the multiple-phase construction project on Monday, March 9.

In this phase, West Main Street will be closed to through traffic between Maple Avenue and Clinton Street so crews can work on underground utilities. Pedestrian access on the sidewalks will be maintained until sanitary sewer and water laterals are replaced, Damien said.

Damien said the project, which isn't expected to wrap up until early August, is moving along well and is slightly ahead of schedule, despite the frigid temperatures in February.

"Even with the cold, we've been working every day," Damien said.

Underground work to replace a new water main was done on Maple Avenue, and the sanitary sewer laterals have been relayed, Damien said. To allow crews to work on the water main, the intersection of West Main Street and Maple Avenue was closed for five days last week.

Year 2 of project

This is the second year in an extensive six-year project throughout downtown.

Last year, construction closed traffic for months from West Broadway to Wisconsin Avenue. The project, which included replacing deteriorated pavement, curb and gutter, sidewalk and terraces, was finished by the end of June.

The terraces were also widened to allow for additional safe pedestrian circulation, street trees and other amenities. New LED lights were also added.

The aging underground utilities were replaced, including the streetlight conduit, water main and sanitary sewer — infrastructure that was in some cases more than 100 years old.

Business owners praised the finished product last year, but some lost significant profits. Sandy Cianciolo, owner of Mia's Italian Restaurant, 800 Clinton St., was one of them. He said he lost 42 percent in sales compared to the same period in 2013. He said he lost 65 percent on carryouts.

Cause and effect

Now, West Main Street from Clinton Street to Wisconsin Avenue as well as on Maple Avenue (from Main to Wisconsin) is about to get a makeover.

"I'm depressed based on the construction," said Skimmons, adding she will make her back entrance available to the public. "I realize it needs to be done, but it will severely hurt the business."

Meanwhile, Karla Harper, longtime owner of the now-closed Sprizzo Gallery/Caffé across the street at 363 W. Main St., cited the road construction as a reason for deciding to permanently close her restaurant on March 1.

Harper praised the efforts of Damien communicating with her throughout the process so she knew what to expect. But in the end, the uncertainty of the construction's long-term effects played a part in Harper deciding to close her doors.

"I don't blame or fault the city, and Alex was great to work with and answered all of my questions," Harper said. "But even last year when they would shut off the water for doing underground work, there would be issues for a period of time. Those are the ramifications. Plus, we don't have another back entrance. Sprizzo only has one customer entrance.

"The construction wasn't the only reason (we closed), but it played a part."

Damien said he's "disappointed" Sprizzo closed, especially since he had just met with Harper to discuss the schedule and her concerns.

"Everyone knows it's coming, and we had informational meetings," Damien said. "These roads haven't been (worked on) for so long."

Waukesha NOW poll: Would construction in front of or near a business deter you from going to that store or restaurant?

Here to assist

Given the concerns some businesses have, the University of Wisconsin-Extension Waukesha County will hold an educational workshop to assist them.

The Main Street Business Workshop will be held from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday, March 12, at the WurkHub, 417 W. Main St.

Participants will learn about retaining and growing customer base, marketing strategies and other strategies businesses have applied during construction, and consulting programs available with the Small Business Development Center and Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation.

Steven Chmielewski, a community educator with UW-Extension Waukesha County, will run the workshop.

Construction schedule

Below is the schedule for the rest of the construction project, with tentative start and completion dates.

·Phase 2: March 9 to April 10: West Main Street between Maple Avenue and Clinton Street is closed to through traffic. In this phase, the West Main Street and Maple Avenue intersection will have temporary short-term closures. Once the underground utility work is finished in this section, the roadway will be reopened.

·Phase 3: April 10 to May 8: West Main Street between Maple Avenue and Wisconsin Avenue will be closed to through traffic. In this phase, the West Main Street and Maple Avenue intersection will have temporary short-term closures.

·Phase 4: May 8 to July 10: West Main Street between Wisconsin Avenue and Clinton Street will be closed to through traffic. Sidewalks will remain in place until just before removal and replacement. Maple Avenue will remain open to provide parking and pedestrian access. At times, vehicular access to driveways will not be allowed, Damien said. Once the road reconstruction work is completed, West Main Street will reopen.

·Phase 5: July 10 to Aug. 7: Maple Avenue will be closed to through traffic. West Main Street will be finished and remain open.

Any questions should be directed to Damien at (262) 524-3907 or