Ken Smith/Turnagain Times
Two additional parking spaces were added in front of the Crow Creek Mercantile. The parking places were originally on the street, but the store owner, Safeway, appealed for a new design and won. The delay added about a month to the project with the paving of Hightower Road to be the last of four newly paved roads in downtown Girdwood.
By Ken Smith
The Town Square project in Girdwood broke ground in May and is slated to be completed sometime this month. The $2.8 million project being done by Construction Unlimited, Inc. was expected to be completed at the end of August, however, that date was bumped back after a dispute arose over parking spaces at the Crow Creek Mercantile. The issue was resolved last month when two additional parking spots were added in front of the downtown grocery store owned by Safeway.
To make room for the additional parking spots, two parallel parking places were eliminated on Hightower Road in front of the Merc, and the sidewalk was torn apart and new concrete was laid down, pushing the sidewalk further out into the road. The new design and construction of the sidewalk reportedly cost an estimated $100,000.
As the project nears completion, the Turnagain Times visited downtown business owners to get their feedback on the impact the construction has had on their businesses, and their overall view of the project itself.
Sam Daniel, owner of Glacier City Realty Inc., has an office in the center of town on Hightower Road, the last road still to be paved. He’s lived in Girdwood for 27 years and owned his current business for 8 years.
“I think it’s going to be wonderful when it’s done,” Daniel said, “but there’s too many choke points. I think they should have done a rolling corner in some places, like in front of the Merc. The Merc was grandfathered in. It was here before the design of Town Square. It’s just not practical the way they have it set up for parking.”
The Mercantile parking issue has been a sticking point for many people in the community. Curves placed in front of the Mercantile have eliminated the once easy access in an out of the tight parking areas around the building, which could accommodate about 8 vehicles. Now two 24-foot wide driveways provide an entrance into the Merc’s two small parking lots, although there is parking on the street directly across from the general store on Girdwood Place.
Daniel, however, like many of the business owners interviewed about the new Town Square, saw more positives than negatives with the project.
“Overall, I’m pleased,” he said. “I think this is good for Girdwood and makes downtown more vibrant along with the resort’s development.”
Julie St. Louis, owner of GRRDwood Pets & Green Goods on Holmgren Place, said she is most happy with the absence of potholes in front of her business. Potholes have been a major problem on all the roads in downtown. And paving, along with proper drainage, is expected to eliminate the potholes.
“The potholes were so huge at the end of Girdwood and Holmgren Place, it’s good to see them gone,” St. Louis said.
With the newly paved roads, vehicles have already started driving faster through downtown.
“People are already driving too fast,” St. Louis said. “We’re going to need speed bumps next.”
Next door to St. Louis’ business is the Mexican restaurant Casa Del Sol and the Girdwood Laundromall, two businesses that draw a lot of foot and vehicle traffic.
Jesse Stamm has owned Casa Del Sol for four-and-a-half years, and prior to the Town Square project, parking was always an issue.
There is also public parking in a lot at the corner of Girdwood and Holmgren Place, but nothing designated in front of the Laundromall building. That all changed with the paving of the road. Now there are over a half dozen parking spaces both parallel and perpendicular on Holmgren Place.
With the construction period lasting through the summer, downtown businesses lost a great deal of revenue.
“In the beginning, it was a huge impact on our business,” said Stamm. “We had a significant drop off, about 12 to 15 percent, especially in May, June and July. Once they had finished the hard part of construction then business started coming back up.”
One concern expressed by Stamm and many people interviewed was whether or not snow plows could maneuver around the newly designed Town Square. “The corners are a little too narrow,” she said. “My fear is that the snowplows are going to destroy most of the curves.”
In addition to all four roads in downtown being paved, sidewalks have been added on all sides of Town Square, something businesses and snow plows have never had to contend with before. The sidewalks are wonderful for summer walkers, but in the winter, they must be maintained and cleared of snow and ice – not a simple task in a town that receives heavy snowfall in the winter and icy rain in the early spring.
“I’m just worried about where all this money’s going to come from for the extra maintenance,” Stamm said. “Girdwood Place hasn’t been maintained once since they put that in. The last two winters nobody shoveled that sidewalk.”
Several years ago, Girdwood Place was the first road to be paved and have sidewalks built, and was the first phase of the Town Square project.
“So, I’m thinking it will just become another Girdwood volunteer project,” Stamm said. “We can all get our shovels and do what we have to do to get by.”
Danny Pfister, owner of the Laundromall building, also said his revenue was down around 15 percent for the summer. He added that the sacrifice overall will be small given the impact that Town Square project will have on future revenue.
“I’m excited and happy,” he said. “It will draw more people into Girdwood.”
Pfister has been involved with the Town Square project since 2004 and a vocal advocate for it. One thing he said he would have liked to have seen was a metal corner on the sidewalks to protect them from the blades of snowplows. Pfister said he heard they were too expensive, costing about $140,000.
Pfister also expressed his concern for the clearing of snow and ice from the sidewalks and questioned whether it would get done. He too was concerned about speeding in downtown.
“I’ll tell you one thing, that’s going to be a real problem,” he said. “My first thought is to put down temporary summer only speed bumps.”
Overall, though, Pfister said he was extremely pleased with the end result of the project.
One business owner who probably endured the most negative impact during the construction and new design of the roadway on Hightower Road is Judd Crosby, owner of the Silvertip Grill next to the Mercantile. He’s owned the business for six years.
“We had a decent summer, but I know that I have personally seen cars that weren’t able to get here and moved on,” he said. “We allowed the construction workers to use our property to access the park area, but a few weeks ago I told them they couldn’t anymore. When the dump trucks were coming and going they would stop there, so we finally said enough is enough and told them we didn’t want them to use our parking lot anymore. At the beginning when they were taking the paving rollers they were as close to our property as possible and it shook the whole property and we sprung a water leak on the mainline, and I had to have a private company come in to replace the water main at an expense of $7,500.”
Crosby also said the addition of sidewalks built next to his restaurant greatly altered the way patrons can park and has made it more difficult for delivery trucks.
“They put the driveway too close to the restaurant, so the delivery trucks are having difficulty getting in,” he said. “They made the driveway so close to the building if one customer parks wrong it could stop anyone else from getting in and out of the parking lot. The delivery trucks now have to park on Hightower and can’t back into our parking lot, which will create a problem in the winter. It’s going to be a pain for everyone when the road has snow where they have made the sidewalks out into the road to slow traffic down, is what they told me, but when it becomes too much of a snowbank, it will make it difficult for big vehicles to go through the road at the same time. When we get a lot of snow in the wintertime it may make it a one-lane road, and for us here with our parking lot, I think I will have to pay for snow removal because I won’t be able to put snow in the easement to the park where we used to put it. In the future, when it’s all done and people get used to it, I think it will be a nice thing for the town, but in the interim it’s been a pain in the butt for sure.”
Despite the loss of business and future worries about snowplowing, as well as speeding and sidewalk maintenance, the Town Square project itself drew praise from nearly everybody interviewed.
Eleven years ago the Master Plan for the project was unveiled, now it’s finally coming to fruition, and for the long-term development of downtown Girdwood, most business owners see the project as a necessary first step towards future growth.
“I’m super excited,” said Bryan Epley, owner of Remax of Alyeska. “I just think it will be a huge impact for this area. It’s going to make Girdwood a lot more polished, a little more like a town.”