Delays for San Marco Streetscape?

Completion date a work in progress

Will construction delays force the San Marco Boulevard
roadwork to finish perilously close to the 2012 holiday shopping
season? It depends on who you ask.

Completion date a work in progress

By Susanna P. Barton
Resident Community News

Will construction delays force the San Marco Boulevard roadwork to finish perilously close to the 2012 holiday shopping
It depends on who you ask.
Jacksonville Public Works officials said delays in recent phases could push the San Marco Streetscape completion, originally slated for Oct. 21, into mid- to late-November. But a subsequent statement from Mayor Alvin Brown’s office said the project is still on track for the Oct. 21 finish date. A statement from Jessica Deal, director of city policy for the mayor’s office, came one day after Public Works construction manager Thomas McKnight shared his delay projections in an email to District 5 City Councilwoman Lori Boyer and The San Marco Resident.
“The San Marco Boulevard Road Project is still on track to meet the end of October construction completion date,” Deal said in an email. “The contractor has encountered unforeseen conditions in the current phases, however, based on conversations with the contractor, Petticoat-Schmitt this morning, they can make up the time with the existing schedule and deadline as set in October.”
Deal added, “in the event the work cannot be completed by the end of October, the city is committed to ensure the businesses in San Marco are not adversely impacted after Oct. 31 through Jan 1, 2013 so the roads and parking spaces are fully accessible to the merchants and the general public during that important time of the year.”
The 2012 holiday shopping period has been a sacred deadline for San Marco business owners — many hard hit by the economy and ongoing construction detours from the two-year, $15 million improvement project. Councilwoman Boyer has been diligent in holding the city to task and offering creative construction solutions to minimize impact on merchants and residents. The latest flap over construction timing is a “red flag” and Boyer is keeping here eye on it.
“There has been no official change order, but [public works] was concerned they’d be asking for one because there have been some delays,” Boyer said. “The administration has been able to confirm that there is still time, and they can make it up. We are hopeful the entire project will be completed on time — but if for some reason additional problems are encountered, it sounds like the city will work with the contractor and merchants to ensure access for the full holiday season.”
McKnight said the project is 65 to 70 percent complete. While work had progressed “smoothly” to this point, recent challenges in the “Riviera to Landon and the Landon to north of Naldo sections” delayed the schedule. Some of the unforeseen conflicts included gas and drainage lines under the street, he explained. That segment of work is nearly complete, with the Riviera to Landon section expected to wrap-up by the end of May. The stretch of roadway from Landon to just north of Naldo also will be complete by that time, McKnight added.
Merchants are keeping their fingers crossed for a smooth finish.
“I sincerely hope it will be completed as soon as possible and before Thanksgiving,” said Carolyn Hawthorne, owner of The Write Touch in San Marco Square.
George Foote, president of the San Marco Merchants Association, said the merchants will “weather the storm.”
“We feel like the city through Lori Boyer has been very sensitive to our voice — she attends our merchants meetings and was the one who originally asked what construction schedule was best for the merchants. And of course, we were also happy that the Mayor came down and walked the San Marco stores during the construction, we were pleased he was paying attention to the situation,” Foote said. “We are certainly going to communicate to people that we’re open and doing business. So if the work were to stretch into the holiday season, we would do what we could to communicate alternative routes into the square. At this point, the consensus is we’re certainly going to weather the storm and get through it — ultimately, it’s a good thing to have the improvements.”
Andy Zarka, whose European Street restaurant has endured many months of storefront construction, said the improvements have not come without pains. He said he’s not sure the improvements will ever make up for all the losses his store has incurred during construction.
“The construction with its detours and parking space losses resulted in dismal sales for 2011. With the construction now past us we are close to 2010 revenues but not where we were before the construction started,” Zarka said. “I’m really disappointed that the completion of the phase immediately south of us has been delayed so much. The loss of the parallel parking along that stretch is a huge impact on our lunchtime business.”
The finished product — whenever it happens — is good news for the community. The project will bring two roundabouts, new roadway and fresh landscaping to San Marco Square when it is complete this fall. Some merchants, like The Write Touch’s Hawthorne, are focusing on the end product and the impact it will make on future business growth in the neighborhood.
“What’s done so far is wonderful and looks and feels very professional — improvements can be painful, but I feel confident when it’s done it will be even better than before and will attract new vibrant businesses to the area. ” Hawthorne said.
The roundabouts will include new landscaping. The statue currently located at the north end of San Marco Square will be relocated to the center of the Naldo roundabout. In addition, planners expect to install a colorful tree palette of crape myrtles, date palms and Live Oaks along San Marco Boulevard. The live oaks originally lining the San Marco Boulevard medians were removed and will be replaced by standard crape myrtles and 18-inch clear trunk date palms, according to Marty Child, a landscape architect with project designer, RAM Professional Group.
While the removed median Live Oak trees have been an issue of concern to some passersby, Child said San Marco Preservation representatives Zim Boulous and Rob Smith agreed the existing live oaks trees in the median did not look very good — and that the crape myrtles and date palms would be a better selection for the area. The new trees will complement existing crape myrtles and date palms preserved in the medians just north of where the live oak trees were removed, Child explained.
Boyer said there was no option to save the live oaks in the medians because of the construction. But Live Oaks will feature prominently along the San Marco Boulevard Along right-of-way, where the trees will line both sides of the street.
“I did get one call from a resident who was concerned about a tree removal on the right-of-way, that was the only one — because we had discussed it at some length about what was coming down and what was going up,” she said.
Surprisingly, Boyer said she has not received any calls from residents along San Marco Boulevard about the roadway construction and altered access to area homes.

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