Gary Goldman stepped onto the patio of his Cultivar Mexican Kitchen restaurant, pulled out his cell phone and started frantically texting.
Streetcar line construction vehicles had collected in front of the building on N. Broadway Ave blocking parking and the view of his restaurant at the beginning of lunchtime Thursday.
His lunch customers are what’s keeping him going right now with construction disrupting his business.
His texting worked.
The vehicles moved away within about 10 minutes but he shook his head and said, “This happens on a regular basis every week.”
“People call me every day and ask if we are open because of the construction,” he said.
It’s been an ordeal for Goldman and other merchants along Automobile Alley on N. Broadway Avenue between NW 6th and NW 13th, especially on the east side of the street.
Lingering construction on that stretch of the new OKC streetcar project has created a sustained four-month assault on their business traffic.
Merchants there are saying OKC Streetcar line construction is costing them around 40 percent of their normal business.
And, the streetcar line won’t matter if the construction puts them out of business first, the merchants say.
Down 40 percent
Gary Goldman, founder of Cultivar Mexican Kitchen near NW 6th and Broadway told Free Press that business was down 37 percent in February from the same time the previous year, 27 percent last month and is tracking toward 22 percent for April.
“They should be helping us with the cost of this drawn-out construction,” said Goldman.
Steve Schlegel, founder of Schlegel Bicycles opened his shop at 8th and Broadway ten years ago when there wasn’t much of any retail along that part of Automobile Alley.
He is the Chair of the Automobile Alley Board of Directors which oversees their merchants’ association.
Schlegel Bicycles has won several awards for the quality of its service and outreach to the community.
Even with that, the business is down 40 percent from the first quarter last year, which wasn’t the best year they have had.
“I’m hearing about the same numbers from other merchants in our association, too,” Schlegel said.
He said the streetcar could be a big positive for their businesses. He also thinks the city has done a good job with the MAPS projects overall.
“But, streetcar construction could kill several of our businesses before the streetcar project is complete,” Schlegel said.
“I could have lost it all this winter. Had I not made the move out of our second location on the west side of Broadway, I don’t know where I would be today,” he said.
And, then, with a laugh, he said, “Granted, we will be winners in the long run if we are still around.”
Schlegel and Goldman were open about the differences that exist between the incentive treatment big corporations get when they come to the city and the lack of any subsidy or even financing they are getting from the damage done to their business.
“We had no way of saying yes or no to this. We were just a party to it,” said Schlegel.
“To have an adverse effect there needs to be a plan to try and subsidize these losses for these smaller businesses.”
Both Goldman and Schlegel said the coming Memorial Marathon may be what saves them.
Construction crews are pushing to make the area usable by the end of the month when the marathon is held.
The annual event that raises money for the Oklahoma City Memorial and Museum draws thousands of participants, sponsors, and visitors to the area.
Crews were putting large steel panels in place Thursday and Friday to cover some of the construction holes still along the new streetcar line.
David Todd, program manager the City of Oklahoma City MAPS Office was unavailable for comment Friday. But we were able to contact spokespersons with the direct players in this situtaion.
ADG, a project management firm in the metro, is under contract with the Oklahoma City MAPS 3 office to coordinate the streetcar line project.
Kristen Torkelson, with the firm, has the unenviable job of trying to keep communication going between those who are affected by the construction and the companies doing the construction.
“As for Broadway, we are on schedule and a little ahead of schedule,” she said.
Torkelson said the part of the project in front of Cultivar had a slow-down because of issues with an OGE manhole cover being in the wrong place. The problem has been solved now and construction is moving forward.
But, when Free Press contacted OGE, their response was that they are not behind on anything they are supposed to do.
Kathleen O’Shea with OGE told us she checked with the project manager who checked with construction teams working OGE projects connected to the streetcar project.
“All of those projects are closed, and they were completed five or six weeks ago,” said O’Shea.
Torkelson said that she is working to re-establish parking along the east side of Broadway for the sake of the businesses there.
She said there will be less parking spaces in the future because, on the east side of the street where the streetcar line is, parking is moving back to parallel parking from the angle parking they had at when the project began.