Raleigh's Hillsborough Street set to reopen by Sunday

ccampbell@newsobserver.comJanuary 2, 2014 

Construction workers prepare to reopen Hillsborough Street to traffic on Sunday after a two-week closure for utility work.

COLIN CAMPBELL — ccampbell@newsobserver.com

— A two-block stretch of Hillsborough Street is on track to reopen by late Sunday night after a two-week closure that has taken a bite out of business.

Construction workers have been battling rainy weather to move utility lines and patch up the road before N.C. State University students return next week. The utility work is part of developer John Kane’s Stanhope student apartment complex, which has begun construction on the south side of the street.

“Despite the significant amount of rain over the past two weeks, we have been able to take advantage of the recent good weather to stay on track and plan on opening Hillsborough Street as scheduled,” said Blake Jennings, a spokesman for Kane Realty.

Some construction fencing had been taken down Thursday, raising hopes that the street could reopen before Sunday’s midnight deadline. As the closing wraps up, some business owners say the impact hasn’t been as bad as they’d initially feared.

“Things could have been worse than they were,” said Jeff Gold, owner of Cup A Joe. “A lot of regular customers made their way to the store. We were also lucky that the street directly in front of us was only closed for a few days.”

For Gold’s coffee shop, that last-minute change made a big difference. When the closure was first announced in November, Kane planned to close Hillsborough between Dixie Trail to Concord Street, including the section in front of Cup A Joe, Guru Guitars and Nice Price Books. But after outcry from Gold and his neighbors, Kane agreed to keep Hillsborough open to Daisy Street until Christmas.

Kane’s company expected to close the Cup A Joe section through Sunday, but it was able to reopen the stretch by New Year’s Eve, allowing customers to park in front of the shops again.

That change didn’t ease the pain for College Beverage, which has seen its parking area blocked off for the entire two weeks. Owner Lea Prasad said sales at the convenience store have dropped 75 percent.

While some customers have continued to come in on foot, a complicated parking arrangement has prompted many to go elsewhere. “Some people have to call us to find out how to get in here,” Prasad said.

Both College Beverage and Cup A Joe put up their own wayfinding signs around the barricades. But Gold said his signs started disappearing hours after he put them up.

He soon found out that overzealous city zoning inspectors were to blame, despite assurances from City Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin that the signs would be fine on a temporary basis.

“The communication didn’t get down to the people who enforce signs from the city,” Gold said, adding that city officials eventually returned the confiscated signs. “They haven’t been bothered since.”

Neighborhood residents along the detour route are also eager to see the construction end. Brooks Avenue resident Stephen Karvwatt said he has noticed backups stretching four blocks from the Wade Avenue intersection and worries heavier traffic and speeding on the residential street could cause accidents.

“I’m not used to hearing trucks and buses going by at 2 in the morning,” he said.

While traffic will be back to normal next week, another round of construction will begin on the opposite end of Hillsborough across from the N.C. State Bell Tower. The wrecking ball is on the way this month for Sadlack’s Heroes, Schoolkids Records and other shops where a new hotel will be built.

The displaced businesses there are moving elsewhere, with Schoolkids set to reopen in Mission Valley shopping center this weekend. Korean restaurant Soo Cafe has moved north to Brentwood Road, and Buddha’s Belly has moved west to the 5600 block of Hillsborough.

Campbell: 919-829-4802; Twitter: @RaleighReporter

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