By Mallory Estepp
Williamston Post staff writer
The Williamston Downtown Development Authority prepares for major construction on South Putnam Street during this year’s construction season.
South Putnam will be graded and repaved from the railroad tracks to Industrial Park Drive, estimated to last eight weeks that include 30 workdays.
Although most of Williamston dislikes construction, Brian Stiffler, a member of the Downtown Development Authority, said that it is for the good of the community.
“Everybody hates construction, but when it’s done, it’s nice,” said Stiffler.
When the city rebuilds its streets and keeps the same sidewalks and architecture, Williamston will be considered a historic downtown by the state government, Stiffler said.
If that happens, the state would give the city money for its upkeep.
Plans are still being worked on, so an exact date has not been set for when construction will start, Stiffler said.
Plans include regrading the bump in the road on which the train tracks lay and fixing the streetscape up to the expressway.
Few residents seem to have heard about the plans.
“I have not heard about it,” said a server at Eli’s Country Kitchen.
She also said that she didn’t know about traffic light installation last year on South Putnam until it started and that it lasted two months longer than the city said it would. At the time, Sarah was working at a party store on Grand River Avenue and its business dropped about 60 percent during construction.
Two employees from True Value Hardware said the same: the store experienced about a 60 percent decrease in business during last year’s construction.
More than seven years ago, there was a similar project on Grand River Avenue. It was terrible for businesses, Stiffler said. More than half of the businesses on Grand River closed.
However, Stiffler said that he doesn’t think construction will impact local businesses that much this year, only out-of-town businesses and businesses trying to open during the construction, because the work starts at the railroad tracks.
The construction will not block the front of the businesses on South Putnam Street like last year’s construction project.
Some say that it’s redundant to have construction on the same street two years in a row.
Karen Ritter, an employee at Sequels, asked why it wasn’t done last year.
“It’s pretty wasteful, but I assume it has something to do with funding,” Ritter said.
Stiffler said a lack of funding prevented the entire project from being completed last year. The Downtown Development Authority received a $379,000 grant this year for the project.
The total cost of the project is $484,000, with the city providing the remaining $105,000.
If the DDA doesn’t use its grant money each year, the money goes to the city for other projects that do not include road construction or beautifying the city.
Ben Donnelly, general manager at Gracie’s Place, said he thought the construction this year was ridiculous.
Last year’s construction was inconvenient for Gracie’s Place and its customers because of the lack of parking, said Donnelly.
Donnelly, who is also a volunteer firefighter, said that the construction also makes it difficult to get around the city in a fire engine.
Lisa Baker, owner of Uncommon Goodies in Keller’s Plaza, said that it’s silly that the city spends a lot of money doing these projects.
“It’s something that you can’t control,” Baker said.
“I’m indifferent about it now,” she said. “I don’t know if it’ll affect my business because I haven’t been here that long.“
Ritter said that she doesn’t think it’ll affect businesses that much because most of the customers are locals and don’t use I-96 to drive into town.
“The locals like to support the small businesses,” Ritter. “I don’t think that’ll change.”
Stiffler said he thinks that everything will be OK and will eventually bring more businesses to Williamston’s downtown.