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Downtown merchants concerned about effects of infrastructure project
By Alex Bridges -- firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- Major overhaul of the Loudoun Street Pedestrian Mall won't happen until January 2013 at the earliest.
But downtown proprietors and residents continue to wonder about how work to replace aging utilities under the brick and concrete walkway will affect their livelihoods. City officials were on hand to answer questions at the Old Town Winchester Business Association's annual stakeholders meeting Wednesday at the OakCrest Companies building.
Plans call for the city to replace water, sewer and storm drain system beginning Jan. 2, 2013, according to Public Services Director Perry Eisenach. The goal is to finish construction within four months -- by the end of that April -- Eisenach said.
"We know there's never a good time to do this but, from all of our discussions it would appear that from January through the end of April, if we had to pick four months to do it, that's the best," Eisenach told the group of several dozen people.
Design work is nearly complete, he said. The project also includes the replacement and upgrade of the electrical system, according to Eisenach.
Some trees must be removed to allow for the utility replacement, Eisenach said, but he did not say specifically how many or which ones. Many of the trees have outgrown their wood or concrete boxes. Officials are working with the Old Town Development Board's design committee to come up with possible landscaping and water features for the mall. Open houses scheduled for this fall will allow the public to view and give input on the proposed designs, Eisenach said.
Designs would go to City Council in the spring 2012, with bids out by the summer. The contract awarded would include incentives for early completion and penalties for failing to meet the deadline.
Multiple crews will be working at various parts of the mall during the entire construction, rather than taking the project in sections, Eisenach said. Businesses with outdoor seating areas must remove seats, tables and fencing before work begins on the project. Eisenach said the city would work with the owners in regard to replacing the fences.
Laurie Morrison, owner of Piccadilly Printing with her husband, John, in business for almost 30 years, said the presentations reiterated what they had heard in the media but with more detail, which she appreciated. Morrison remains skeptical even after hearing from the city official.
"Being the skeptic at heart I will be reassured when I actually see it," she said.
Director of Economic Redevelopment Jim Deskins also updated the audience about development occurring on and around the walking mall. Some people expressed satisfaction that work is moving forward on some of the properties. Others voiced skepticism about proposals to renovate and redevelop the former Taylor Hotel building, which Deskins admitted had been through some "ups and downs."