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Karen White has seen extensive road construction projects before, and she's survived them.

But next year's overhaul of downtown has the owner of the Little Swiss Clock Shop especially worried.

She's not just worried about how the monthslong project will affect her business, but the downtown as a whole.

"I am apprehensive about the downturn in business during that time," said White, who was one of a dozen or so downtown stakeholders present for the first informational meeting on the 2016 West Main Street reconstruction project last week at city hall. "It will hurt us, because when people come (downtown) they turn onto Main Street off Barstow Street. But when they see that barricade there, they're going to think 'Well that's closed; I guess I'm not going to go there.'

"Their first instinct is to go someplace else."

White and other downtown business owners want customers to eliminate that mind-set, especially since the project, which will extend on West Main Street from Clinton to North Barstow streets, is projected to last more than four months.

"It's painful for any business owner because people have the mind-set, 'I'm not going downtown (because) there's road construction down there,'" said Jody Schuenke, owner of Metropolitan Antiques & Gifts, 259 W. Main St. "We're just hoping the community supports us, because when it's all done if there's no businesses on Main Street that would be a shame."

Done in phases

Like the previous two years of road construction in downtown, the 2016 project will be done in phases. During the first two phases, crews will work on replacing underground utilities.

Phase 1 is expected to begin in early March. During this phase, West Main Street between Clinton Street and the Five Points will be closed to through traffic.

The second phase, which will go through the middle of May, will see West Main Street closed between the Five Points and North Barstow Street.

The final phase will be the biggest test for business owners. This phase includes a shutdown of traffic on West Main Street from Clinton to North Barstow streets from the middle of May through the end of July.

During this phase, crews will finish the underground and road reconstruction work.

The project, as a whole, includes installing a new underground water main, relaying and rehabilitating the sanitary main, sanitary laterals and storm sewer system, replacing the deteriorated pavement, curb and gutter and sidewalk and terraces, as well as widening the terraces to allow for additional safe pedestrian circulation.

At 1,500 feet, the length of this year's project is the longest of any project during the seven years the downtown streets are experiencing major reconstruction (2014-2020), said Alex Damien, project manager in the city's department of public works.

Alternate entrances

The road construction, part of a seven-year makeover of downtown's roads and sidewalks, will present difficulties for the varying businesses.

For Schuenke, getting materials — especially furniture — into her store will be a challenge when bulldozers are in front of the business. For others, just getting people into their front doors, especially when sidewalk repair is taking place, will be most difficult.

That's why both Schuenke and White will actively market their alternate entrances.

"I have that advantage," White said of customers entering her store from the back on Riverfront Plaza. "I definitely (will be marketing) that with my customers."

Besides her primary entrance on Main Street, Schuenke has a second entrance off Broadway.

Challenges remain

However, White knows a second entrance won't be the only solution to what has become a struggle for business owners who have dealt with street closures over the past two years.

In 2014, road construction closed traffic from West Broadway to Wisconsin Avenue for months. And in 2015 crews addressed West Main Street from Clinton Street to Wisconsin Avenue as well as on Maple Avenue (from Main to Wisconsin). Various businesses owners expressed that despite the streets and sidewalks looking much improved, the loss in sales was steep.

Joan Skimmons had an alternate entrance to The River's End Gallery at 380 W. Main St., but it wasn't enough to save her business. She announced last week she was closing her gallery because the decline in sales over the past two years was too much to overcome.

White said the construction will also have a negative impact on recruiting new businesses. Two businesses that were White's former neighbors and had a crossover appeal with her store moved out of downtown over the past couple of years (Horse Emporium and Frank's Sewing Center).

"Now to even try to recruit anybody ... nobody's going to want to look at these locations before next year," White said.

This all adds to White's trepidation, especially given the state of certain pockets in downtown.

"Without Friday Night Live going on on Fridays, I see how dark it is on my end of the street, because there are no lights on (at those stores)," White said. "It's kind of scary."

Parking concerns

However, White and Schuenke want the public to know downtown will remain open for business. They said signs will be important to indicate that Main Street businesses are open, and to direct customers to available parking.

Schuenke, especially, wants to encourage as many people as possible to park in the city's parking ramp at 241 South St.

Damien also said the city is in talks with the owner of the privately owned parking lot at the former Goodwill Industries space across the river to allow for parking as well as adjusting some of the restrictions on spaces along the Riverfront. Some at last week's information meeting also wanted to see whether parking restrictions could be altered at the vacant lot east of Waukesha State Bank.

Knowing the burden the road construction will put on businesses, Damien said there will be a $1,500 incentive for each day the construction crews finish before July 29. Last year, Damien said, crews finished ahead of schedule.

Now in the third year of the seven-year project, Damien said the city has learned that keeping the public informed is essential — especially for those who live and work downtown.

"Putting out as much information as possible is the key," said Damien, who added that project updates will be on the city's website and emailed to those who sign up at info meetings. "You get less complaints that way by letting people know what's going on."

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