Downtown Fenelon Falls can anticipate traffic interruptions right to the beginning of summer as the village accepts short-term pain for long term gain.
The major construction project on Colborne Street will go beyond the original deadline of the Victoria Day long weekend in May. The sewer improvement, traffic calming, and beautification project was originally scheduled to suspend operations then and resume after Labour Day.
However, when contractor Coco Paving was able to progress faster than expected, they approached the city with the idea of continuing until June 18 instead.
John Innes, senior engineering technician for Kawartha Lakes noted, “The proposal to extend the construction date until June 18 was brought forth by the contractor. The benefit to businesses is that there will be less of an impact in September when the contractor returns to complete the project.”
However, the construction has already created lineups stretching to The Beer Store, which normally only occur in July and August. When combined with the temporary loss of on-street parking, businesses now face an additional three weeks of income interruption – a fact which includes the first busy long weekend of the season.
Randy Meredith at Grr8 Finds Market expressed a resigned acceptance of the decision, saying he already had to find creative ways to keep the business earning during the forced COVID shutdown, and wasn’t expecting to also deal with a change in schedule. He fears three extra unexpected weeks of reduced income may be too much for some businesses to bounce back from.
Meredith had nothing but praise for the labourers who have gone out of their way to show concern for fragile items in his display windows before beginning work that might affect them and says communication about the project with business owners has been excellent. But judging by the daily questions he fields from customers the general public is not up to speed in the same way.
Trish Dougherty across the street at the Kawartha Store shared the same concerns as Meredith in terms of business interruption but also expressed disappointment at the permanent reduction of parking spots from the reconstruction.
“We are fortunate here to have a back entrance and parking nearby, but people shopping at other businesses might not want to walk a couple blocks carrying a coffee or a 25-pound bag of dog food.”
Pam Vatter at The Water Street Clothesline also mentioned the current loss of on-street parking as the biggest inconvenience resulting from the project. She, too, has been unable to find parking at times near the store, particularly when snow was on the ground, and has resorted to getting rides to and from the shop. Customers report having to circle the block a few times before a spot becomes available. The project extension was not the major influence on the Vatters’ decision to close the store at the end of the month, but it sealed the deal.
For his part, Councillor Doug Elmslie points out, “This change was discussed with the Chamber, and all felt the short-term pain would be worth it. If they are not going to be completed by June 18 they will close up and continue after Labour Day, but the street will be fully open.”
A city news release further explains that the project, which will update and enhance the streetscape with new sidewalks, curbs, gutters and furnishings, will be moving forward with a faster schedule. Crews will be completing all underground infrastructure replacement by June 18, including the concrete curb, sidewalk and base asphalt installations as well.
“We believe this will be a benefit to the community as the new schedule will allow us to open the road to traffic sooner, and in this case, right before the peak summer season,” said Juan Rojas, engineering director for Kawartha Lakes.
MaryLee Boston, manager of the Fenelon Falls & District Chamber of Commerce said all businesses are open and look forward to seeing their long-time customers and welcoming new ones.
“The sidewalks and parking lots are open and accessible; some stores even have back entrances to help you shop with ease. We are looking forward to a beautiful downtown when the project is complete and want to thank everyone for shopping local and supporting Fenelon Falls while we’re undergoing our transformation.”