by BRAD ROLLINS
San Marcos business owners who say they have been hit hard by months of major construction on North LBJ and Hutchison streets will hold a sidewalk sale on Saturday, April 20.
The first phase of the Downtown Reconstruction Project will transform four city blocks from an aging mess of crumbling concrete and disconcerting drapes of overhead power lines into a showcase of tree-lined streets and broad sidewalks lit by tasteful street lamps.
But seven months into the two-year project, merchants — including local fixtures like Gil’s Broiler, Paper Bear and Showdown — say construction clamor is hurting their bottom lines. One discount bookseller closed up shop in January, blaming the work-zone atmosphere for a 50 percent decline in sales.
Hoping, in part, to raise awareness of their predicament, business owners will hold their sidewalk sales the third Saturday of each month.
City engineer Jennifer Shell told council members last week that the Hutchison Street portion of the project — where the most intense activity is going on right now — will be completed by January. At that point, the hubbub will return to North LBJ Drive where Shell said work will be parceled out so that it only disrupts one side of the street and one city block at a time. The entire thing is projected to be completed by September 2014.
Despite the challenges it poses to business owners, the project is going smoothly by other measures, Shell said. Of the $10.3 million construction contract Pflugerville-based RGM Constructors of Texas, more than $1.3 million — 12 percent — is cushion against unexpected problems. Thus far, change orders have amounted to $70,629, well under one percent, Shell said.
Besides the most visible components — streets, sidewalks and amenities like bicycle racks and benches — the project includes burying electricity and telecommunication lines; replacing water and sewer piping; and installing drainage facilities that will empty into a water retention pond at San Marcos Plaza Park, which will be dressed up with a fountain and landscaping.
In 2005, San Marcos voters approved what was then called the Hutchison Street Reconstruction Project. The plan took on a more ambitious bent in 2010 following adoption of the 2008 Downtown Master Plan.
At the April 11 San Marcos City Council meeting, City Engineer Jennifer Shell gave an update on the Downtown Reconstruction Project Phase 1.