Downtown Chandler businesses say they're worried an ongoing $10 million Arizona Avenue roadway project will hurt business in the short term but are upbeat about the expected long-term benefits of making the area more pedestrian-friendly.
Construction began last week on the project, which calls for reducing Arizona Avenue from six lanes to four just south of Chandler Boulevard, improving sidewalks and landscaping, and installing more on-street parking and bicycle lanes between Chandler Boulevard and Frye Road.
Barricades now line the roadway, reducing the lanes of traffic through downtown. The work is expected to last until November.
Chris Feld, general manager of Murphy's Law Irish Pub & Restaurant in the historic square, said he fears a drop-off in customers during the work because of the inconvenience to drivers. He said he would rather the city had scheduled the work in the summer, after the winter visitor season.
"It's definitely an inopportune time. This is really the first good season we've seen in a couple of years," Feld said.
However, once the work is finished, the improvements could actually help bring more people to the district, he said.
"In the long term it's going to do incredible things for downtown," Feld said. "People really crave that opportunity to get out and walk and enjoy themselves."
Some area merchants had expressed concern that narrowing Arizona Avenue through Dr. A.J. Chandler Park would reduce the number of drivers traveling through the downtown, meaning less exposure for area businesses. But Anthony Canecchia, owner of SanTan Brewing Company, said he believes the district is a known destination that doesn't rely on that kind of visibility.
The roadwork is a sign of the city's commitment to downtown revitalization, he said.
"The reinvestment by the city is what's going to keep the growth going," Canecchia said. "It's going to hurt. But it's really growing pains. It's really going to put Chandler on the map as far as being one of the up-and-coming cities of the Valley."
Darlene Heavlin, hotel manager at the Crowne Plaza San Marcos Golf Resort, said city officials and the Downtown Chandler Community Partnership have been good about meeting with and listening to area businesses. Those meetings have produced a print and online public education campaign, she said.
Heavlin said the resort has been informing potential guests, conventions and golf tournaments about the work, and how the downtown will be safer for pedestrians when it's completed.
"I'm going to be thrilled when it's done, with the look of it," she said. "To have 15 restaurants within safe walking distance is an added asset to sell."
Paul Cho, owner of Sushi Eye restaurant, said more pedestrians will be good for his business.
"Less traffic on Arizona Avenue is not really a big factor for the local businesses here. Everybody already knows where the historic square is," he said. "They're coming here because they already know the destination."
The roadwork is meant to go hand-in-hand with the city's South Arizona Avenue Design Guidelines, adopted in January, which are aimed at creating an urban, pedestrian-friendly city center with tall buildings on each side of Arizona Avenue transitioning downward to blend into adjacent residential neighborhoods. The area targeted for redevelopment in the coming decades is bounded by Chandler Boulevard, Pecos Road, South Palm Lane and South Delaware Street.