ELKHART — Downtown merchants understand that the planned installation of a large sewage holding tank under a parking lot in the city center is needed.
It'll keep untreated sewage from going straight into the St. Joseph River, sullying the waterway.
They just worry about the disruption caused by the project, to start in July and last 18 months to two years. They wonder where downtown shoppers and customers will park with the temporary closure of the Gause lot off Waterfall Drive and Jackson Boulevard to make way for the million-gallon tank.
Details of the plans have started emerging in the last month or so, and the concerns came out loud and clear at a public meeting on the project Wednesday, March 19, at the Lerner Theatre, organized by the Elkhart Public Works Department.
"I'm fearful," said Kevin Quarandillo, operator of Revolution Salon in the 100 block of South Main Street, just west of the Gause lot, which contains around 80 parking spots. "And no one gave me a real good answer here today on what the solutions are going to be."
The city plans to open up a 28-space lot south of Dairy Queen and Elkhart City Engineer Mike Machlan said other parking accommodations are in the works to offset the loss of the Gause lot, to re-open when the project is done. Still, it wasn't enough for Quarandillo and others like Paula Killough, who want more details.
"I'm not confident at all," said Killough.
Killough, co-owner of a Main Street building west of the tank site understands the environmental import of the project, mandated by the feds. She simply worries about the well-being of businesses in the area, "just starting to do better after the economic downturn."
Officials are cognizant of the concerns and Machlan said more details of the fixes to address the worries are forthcoming as officials sort things out.
Downtown Elkhart Inc. Executive Director Dan Boecher, who's helping spearhead efforts to address downtown merchants' concerns, said the impact, on the bright side, won't be as dramatic as the Streetscape project in the late 2000s and early 2010s. While there will be "temporary chaos" brought on by the work in Gause lot, the earlier project resulted in the closure of entire stretches of Main Street to permit upgrades of the roadway, really upsetting many.
MORE PROJECT DETAILS
Here are some more points that came out Wednesday:
- Gause lot users: Downtown residents and downtown workers most use the Gause lot, according to Boecher. It also gets heavy use from people attending activities at the adjacent Elkhart Knights of Columbus locale. A Knights of Columbus rep, Grand Knight Jon Fish, said he's trying to pinpoint alternative parking areas.
- Jackson closure: Jackson Boulevard to the north of the Gause lot will be completely closed on both sides of the crossing over the St. Joseph River, just west of Main Street, for six to eight weeks, probably in the late summer and early fall. That'll permit installation of a pipe under the street.
- Lexington closure: Lexington Avenue on the south side of the Gause lot will be partially closed for around four weeks in July for peripheral watermain work related to the tank installation. A lane of traffic is to remain open. The Jackson and Lexington closures are in addition to the closure of Waterfall Drive between those two streets for the duration of the project.
- The cost: Bids will be sought sometime in the spring, and officials hope to select the company to handle the project by mid- to late-May. Machlan earlier pegged the price of installing the new tank at around $5 million, with $2 million to $4 million more earmarked for related water main and beautification work. The true cost won't emerge until the work is bid out.