MS. REBECCA SHEIR
We'll start off in northwest Washington. It's lunchtime at bustling hotspot in Adams Morgan.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1
What can I get you?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2
I'm going to go with a small on a white bread and small drink.
Small white, small soda, $6.72.
As you can hear, the crowded cafe is buzzing and humming inside. But outside on 18th Street it's buzzing and humming too, not to mention rattling, splattering and, in some cases, some businesses have complained about slam, slamming.
MS. ARIANNE BENNETT
I hate it when they drop that.
What is that thing?
I don't know, but I think they just dropped it by accident.
They are the construction crews working on the Adams Morgan Streetscape Project. And this woman has been living with that project day and night. Her name is Arianne Bennett.
And my husband Scott and I own the Amsterdam Falafelshop here in Adams Morgan.
The Streetscape Project started and began moving up 18th Street in February of last year. The District Department of Transportation expects the project to wrap up by month's end. And when it does, we'll see a full makeover of 18th Street between Florida Avenue and Columbia Road. So we're talking everything from smoother asphalt to improved gas and water service, to 71 new bike racks and 59 new trees. Oh, and let's not forget one of Arianne Bennett's favorites.
Amazing wide sidewalks.
What was your sidewalk like before in front of the Falafelshop?
I had one of the smallest sidewalk spaces on the block. At the time, I think we had two-and-a-half feet between our front step and our tree. And so right now, there's like 13 feet in front of us. And so there's no bottleneck. You can have strollers get through, you can have wheelchairs get through.
But Bennett says those wider sidewalks, and the other improvements, did come at a price, thanks to the jumble of construction equipment, traffic cones and jersey barriers that have been scattered about the 18th Street corridor. Did you feel like you lost any sales, income, customers because of all of this?
Absolutely. We have definitely had months where we were down, $15, $20, $25,000.
And she's not alone. In fact, nine businesses on 18th Street wound up applying for interest-free loans through the District's new Streetscape Loan Relief Fund.
I think it's great we have one. We've helped a couple of people with their application, and we're just grateful because that has not been available in the past to anybody. I think everybody would have hoped that we could have gotten a grant or, you know, a complete freebie in some way to help us compensate. But to have anything is a godsend because many neighborhoods have gone through this and had nothing available to them to borrow from to make it through the hard time.
One of the 18th Street businesses that applied to the fund is Crooked Beat Records.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3
That'll be 48.73.
A store opened by D.C. native Bill Daly in 2004. Crooked Beat is on the southern end of the 18th Street strip, so Daly says he bore the brunt of the Streetscape Project's earliest days.
MR. BILL DALY
We had like a bulldozer in front of our shop for what was it, for about eight months from last summer. And they didn't have as many construction guys as they do now.
So in terms of revenue at Crooked Beat...
As soon as the construction started getting really heavy, it dropped starting last May. June, it dropped even more. July it dropped. And then August it dropped. And, yeah, September was the worst. September it got to about 48 percent below what was normal. March and April, it started coming back to the normal levels. And the construction's further up the street now, so I think that's made a huge difference.
MR. JIM GRAHAM
We knew this would a massive trip to the dentist. I know it's been a great imposition on the businesses and customers and our residents. But we're almost done.
D.C. Councilmember Jim Graham represents Ward One and authored the Streetscape Loan and Relief Fund.
It's been, I think, about $900,000 in monies that have gone out. I favored in my original proposal with providing for grants. But majority of the council and the mayor did not want to that, so we have what we have.
We also have, Graham acknowledges, is a delay, thanks to unexpected conflicts with electrical utilities. Here is Victor Egus, the project manager over at DDOT.
MR. VICTOR EGUS
The District issued what we call the NTP, Notice To Proceed, to the contractor on February 22, 2011. It was supposed to run about 448 calendar days.
And if you do the math, that makes for a completion date of...
The 15th of May.
So, clearly, things are a little off, time-wise. But money-wise, Egus says, the project is pretty much on track.
The initial budget was about $9 million. But after the bids were opened, we were able to get down the cost to about $6.5 million.
Egus says those utility issues raised that figure by about $200,000 or $300,000.
Which is not much. Which is still below the original projection of $9 million.
But the cost to the city is, of course, only one way to measure this project. Kristen Barden is executive director of the Adams Morgan Partnership Business Improvement District. That's BID for short.
MS. KIRSTEN BARDEN
Yeah, Adams Morgan BID.
And she says she knows the project has been tough for many businesses on 18th. But, she adds, if you look at other Streetscape projects in Northwest D.C., like 14th Street's makeover in Columbia Heights or P Street's big transformation, things could have been a whole lot worse.
The businesses expressed a lot of reservations before the construction project started because they'd heard the horror stories of 14th Street, and they'd heard the horror stories about P Street. And the P Street Streetscape Project actually did result in about three or four businesses going under. And so, you know, for all the criticism of the Streetscape construction, we've been very fortunate that we didn't lose any businesses in Adams Morgan.
Barden owes this silver lining, in part, to all the advance planning on the Adams Morgan project. She says businesses had been in the loop about what was to come for several years. And back outside Amsterdam Falafelshop, owner Arianne Bennett says, yes, that advance notice was a big help. All the same, though, she's eager to see the street-scaping done. And not just because it'll leave the neighborhood so beautiful.
But since we live over our business, it'll be nice not to wake up at 6:30 every morning to the sound of, like, (makes noise) .
Instead, she hopes she'll hear a different sound, the chatting and laughing of visitors, old and new, to the neighborhood. That, she says, will be music to her ears.
For more on the Adams Morgan Streetscape Project, including a gallery of photographs from every month of the reconstruction, visit our website, MetroConnection.org.
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