Local officials and business owners are looking forward to the redevelopment of downtown Cary, particularly the streetscape projects now underway on Academy Street.
But for some downtown business owners along Academy Street and Dry Avenue, the Town of Cary’s vision may be clear, but the roads are far from it.
The town started construction about two months ago with plans to close one lane of South Academy Street at a time over the course of the project. As utilities are installed, only southbound traffic is open on Academy Street and Kildaire Farm Road with only eastbound traffic allowed on Dry Avenue.
For Tammy Harper, the owner of Belle, a restaurant on the corner of Academy and Dry, the downtown construction has meant a loss in customers. Since construction began in June, Harper said the restaurant has lost about $3,000 to $5,000 per week – about a third of average weekly revenues.
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“It can be pretty substantial. It just depends on the week,” she said.
Although Belle has its own parking lot and customers can use the lot at the Cary Arts Center across the street, there still have been complaints about parking. Harper said people have been calling ahead to find out about parking conditions that day, but sometimes, they still don’t come.
“They just don’t want to, obviously, fight the equipment and drive on the nasty road right now,” she said.
Kyle Hubert, the town’s senior engineer, said he had not received many complaints from businesses. The town has been working with downtown business owners since before construction began to update them on traffic control. Emails are periodically sent out to keep them up to date.
“I think we’ve had a pretty substantial outreach effort to the folks along Academy Street,” Hubert said. “They are feeling some impacts, but I think they’ve had a chance to prepare for that.”
Still, Belle employee Cori Bilton said the streetscape construction had an impact on the number of customers who stopped at the restaurant during Aug. 22’s Lazy Daze Arts and Crafts Festival, which drew thousands of people to downtown Cary. Lazy Daze, which is normally held on Academy and Chatham streets, was held at the Cary Town Hall Campus this year because of the construction.
“It was much slower than we expected,” she said. “Based on last year’s business, we should have had about four times what we had.”
And because of construction, Harper also has had problems with losing Internet access, which is needed to ring people up, for as many as eight hours at a time.
“It’s definitely affecting us, but my opinion of this is that at the end of the day when this whole project is done, I see the vision the Town of Cary is going for,” she said. “I would love to see it moving along a little quicker.”
Next door at Cary Pottery on Dry Avenue, co-owner Glenda Westbrook-Nielsen said she had been fortunate enough not to lose Internet access. But construction has cost the pottery studio and art gallery walk-in and drive-by traffic.
“We’ve probably lost about two-thirds of our general traffic,” Westbrook-Nielsen said. “It’s very confusing for people to try to get around, but we’ve had people call us, and they find us. We know it’s going to be really nice when it’s done, so we’re patient.”
Across Dry Avenue, the town-owned Cary Arts Center has been minimally impacted by the downtown projects so far, said Lyman Collins, the town’s cultural arts division manager.
“I’ve talked with the staff there, and they have had people comment on it but it doesn’t seem to stop people from coming,” Collins said. “People know where it is and they’re finding it and they’re finding parking and they’re making due.”
The arts center hasn’t experienced any changes in ticket sales, including season ticket sales for the Marvelous Music Mainstage series, which begins on Sept. 26.
The town is hoping to see work completed near the Cary Arts Center by the end of the year with the entire downtown project to be completed by next summer.
Kathryn Trogdon: 919-460-2608; @KTrogdon