Michigan Avenue Work Slams Businesses

Orange barrels on the sidewalk obstruct foot traffic on the 600 block of E. Michigan Avenue.  Businesses are suffering while they try to patiently wait for the city sewer separation project to be completed.

LANSING, MI —  Mounds of dirt and orange and white barrels have taken over Michigan Avenue and its sidewalks.  Affixed to the front of bar and restaurant 621, located at 621 E. Michigan Avenue,  hangs a banner that reads "Construction Special 50% off from 4-7".   These days, owner Julian Darden, says business is down about 40-50%.

621 is one of dozens of businesses hit hard by Lansing’s Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) Control Project.  The project  involves separating 203 miles of combined sewer pipes by constructing a second parallel pipe so raw sewage and stormwater are carried separately.

Sewers built in Lansing before 1953 use a single pipe to transport raw sanitary sewage and stormwater. The city’s wastewater treatment plant can accept and treat sanitary sewage, however, due to current conditions, untreated sewage from combined sewers overflows into the river during heavy rainfall.     Although some neighborhoods have separated sewers, much of Lansing’s system still requires upgrading.

The raw sewage (human waste) will only go to the city’s wastewater treatment plant and the stormwater will be discharged directly to the rivers.

The CSO project will cost $176 million.  It began in 1992 and will take 30 years to complete.  Lansing has managed to avoid millions of dollars in citations and fines.  Environmental regulations require Lansing and 30 other cities (municipalities) to develop plans to eliminate waste reaching the river.  This sewer separation is the most cost-effective means.

The work around the 600 block of E. Michigan Avenue began in April 2006 and should be completed by mid-October.

Cindy Jubeck, manager of the restaurant Clara’s located at 637 E. Michigan Avenue said that her sales are down $200,000.    In order to deal with the nosedive in business she has had to cut back.

Jubeck stated, "We have lowered food costs and cut labor but it is still difficult because the overhead is the same."

Jubeck indicated that she inquired about lowering her property taxes and that she has spoken with city council.

"It’s not normal to suffer for some 8-9 months. I’m concerned that people are creatures of habit and will stick to their new routes and not consider Clara’s when they’re hungry," expressed Jubeck.

Both Darden and Jubeck expressed that when the project is done that they will do other things to lure customers back to their establishments.

Mike Eckler, a bartender at 621 said,  "When the construction is over, we’re going to have Grand Re-Opening. We want to get our clientele back… and include, again, the upper socio-economic crowd.  Not  having any lunch business really takes a toll."

Eckler  also said that there has been a big problem with  the lack of parking  along E. Michigan Avenue.  Patrons of other businesses have started to use Clara’s parking lot and there have been some vehicles that have been towed.

Jubeck says that they’ve tried to let other patrons use Clara’s parking lot but  it starts to happen all the time and there’s isn’t space for Clara customers.  She indicated that customers have rode past Clara because they thought it was full or busy because the full parking lot gave that impression.   She mentioned that there is free parking along Pier Marquette on weekdays after 6 and all weekend.  Also, they pay to patrol the lot, which clearly states that it is for Clara’s customers.

Brogan Tire located at  614 E. Michigan Avenue which is across the street from 621 and Clara’s  is doing significantly better than other businesses.  Their profits are only down about 20%.  When the city notified, owner, Jim Brogan of the forthcoming construction (about a year in advance), he started doing some direct  mailing. Also, he expanded his yellow pages ad.

A Wonderful Surprise:  In May,  Stevie Wonder held an impromptu performance at 621, which is considered a destination spot for area professionals.

Brogan said, "The most disturbing part for me is that it’s taking so long."

He also thought that the city was not  doing a good job of directing traffic or making people aware how to navigate through the city.  He says the detour signs are minimal and more could be done. "There aren’t decent signs to tell people how to work around it [the construction]."

Brogan also said that he sympathizes with the businesses that are open late so he allows them to use his two lots without a problem.

The city offers no compensation for businesses who are affected by construction.

Jubeck says that she is excited to see what will happen with the Lansing area after the construction because it will make downtown an area destination.  When her father, Peter Jubeck opened Clara’s 28 years ago there was not much of a ‘downtown area’.

Torn up roads, mounds of dirt and construction may confuse drivers and frustrate business owners but eventually the freshly paved roads will have every one smooth sailing down E. Michigan Avenue.  Someone else’s business in another part of town may have or be getting ready to experience the same aggravations.

Darden warns other business owners not to let the project turn you upside down.   He admits that his business has been hit hard by the construction.

Darden advises, “Businesses that are aware that the project is coming to their area should start preparing immediately!”