West 7th Street roadwork complete, business owners have mixed feelings

December 16, 2018

SIOUX CITY -- Business owners along West Seventh Street have mixed opinions of the newly-reconfigured corridor.

Some like the pavement upgrades and other improvements. Others are ambivalent. Still others aren’t all that happy.

The West Seventh project, contracted by the city for just over $8 million, replaced the surface of the street between Wesley Parkway and Hamilton Boulevard, in addition to the sidewalks and aging utilities in the area.

The street now has a westbound lane, an eastbound lane and a turning lane in between, compared to four lanes previously.

Jill Wanderscheid, the city’s neighborhood services manager, said the street’s water main, parts of which were believed to date back to the 19th century, had been on the city’s radar for years.

“That was kind of the starting point, the catalyst for the project,” Wanderscheid said. Plans for the project became grander over time, and the city decided to replace the entire roadway and its sidewalks, adding colored concrete, trees and decorative planters, signs and bus stops.

The new pavement is expected to last 50 years, while the new pipes are expected to survive a century.

The city also provided financial assistance to some businesses along the street to improve their facades with tuckpointing, new windows and lighting.

Duane Cory, owner of Bernie’s Lawn and Garden at 616 W. Seventh St., said it’s “very, very nice” to have the road open to traffic again, though he wouldn’t go so far as to say the road is objectively better it was than before.

“It’s definitely different,” Cory said. “It’s nice that the roads are smoother. Some of the stuff they did, I don’t care for. Where the corners all jut out, I don’t necessarily like that. It’s hard for trucks. Trucks coming off a side street have issues turning.”

Harlan Lessman, owner of Lessman Lighting Center, 805 W. Seventh St., said he appreciates the new appearance of the street. His building got a bit of a facade upgrade early in the project, with new awnings.

“I’m glad it’s done,” Lessman said. “I think it’ll be nice, I guess they tried to clean it up and make it look a little nicer.”

Peggy La, the proprietor of the Hong Kong Supermarket at 501 W 7th St, said many of her customers abandoned her grocery store during the 1 1/2 year construction project.

Access to many businesses along the street were restricted while portions of the street and sidewalks were torn up. The work paused last winter before ramping up again in the spring.

Though she is “relieved” by the conclusion of the roadwork -- which made deliveries to the store difficult -- La remains unhappy about the drop in foot traffic.

″(Customers) were like, ‘I don’t know how to get in, I don’t know where to come in, where do we go, what do we do? We don’t want to come this way because the roads are a mess,’” she said. “So I lost customers.”

La said the street’s new appearance “doesn’t matter” to her.

“That’s just cosmetics,” La said of the new signage and bus stops along the street.

“Business has been down for the past two years, so I’m lucky I’m still alive.”

His sentiments about the new corner designs were shared by other business owners along the street, a few of whom did not want to publicly air their criticism. Many aren’t happy that delivery trucks and larger pickups have trouble navigating around the corner bump outs.

Wanderscheid said the corner curb extensions allow more room for pedestrians and makes street crossings more protected.

“The addition of curb extensions was discussed at several public meetings and the size of the trucks utilized by businesses in the corridor were taken into account as a part of the design process,” she said in an email.

John Reidesel, who owns Siouxland Lock and Key, 216 W Seventh St., is also not totally impressed with the corner curb extensions. Still, on the whole he’s glad the project is done.

Construction on the eastern end of West Seventh, where Siouxland Lock and Key is situated, wrapped up in 2017. Even so, Reidesel said the construction on the western end of the street discouraged customers.

“All this summer, we weren’t blocked off at all, but we still got people calling up, saying ‘Is your road open?’” he said. “It’s been a long time coming, they’ve been running late, we’ve had (the street) blocked off for what, six months now. Now that it’s finally opened up, we’ve seen a big difference in the walk-in traffic coming in.”

Lessman said his business took advantage of the torn-up water main, which for some other businesses was a headache. Lessman Lighting was able to change out its building’s old utility hook-up when the city had already dug out the old water main.

And Lessman said his customers are dedicated -- they’d come to the shop one way or another, even when it was hard to get in because the sidewalk was gone.

“Our business thrives on construction and progress, so can’t really complain a whole lot,” he said.

Wanderscheid said the city still needs to wrap up some final details of the West Seventh project.

“We just have some minor things to do this spring, like landscaping,” she said.

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