Downtown construction continues to raise controversy

<p>Small businesses in downtown Muncie are hurting from all the new construction happening, but according to a city official, the construction will give them millions of dollars in upgrade. <em>Tina Maric // DN&nbsp;</em></p>

Small businesses in downtown Muncie are hurting from all the new construction happening, but according to a city official, the construction will give them millions of dollars in upgrade. Tina Maric // DN 

Construction in downtown Muncie is hurting sales of some small businesses but will give them millions of dollars in upgrades, says a city official.

Cheryl Crowder is the events director of the Muncie Downtown Development Partnership, one of the groups in charge of overseeing and planning the project. To her, the project is much more of a help to small business owners than it is a hindrance.

“$3.5 million was just invested in front of their businesses, and nearly $150,000 in marketing dollars were spent through our office,” Crowder said. "There are very few places in the community where businesses get that kind of investment."

Although the finished product is supposed to help local businesses, some business owners are experiencing growing pains. Jayme Klisavage, an employee at Wishbone Gifts, has noticed.

“It just makes this entire block inaccessible, especially via foot traffic which is a lot of our business,” Klisavage said. “There’s been no tax break for anyone down here.”

Crowder recognized the possibility of a loss of business.

“Profit loss is tough, but unless their insurance companies can help, I don't think they will see compensation,” Crowder said.

Flatland’s Phil Tevis, one of the directors of the project, said construction in downtown has been hindered slightly by a number of unforeseen setbacks, such as modernizing utility lines and working around underground vaults. However, the project remains on track to be completed by Oct. 6, Tevis said.

Some Walnut Street business owners, such as Debbe Caine from Hayloft Boutique, have not complained about losing business from the construction.

“They’re doing really a great job,” Caine said, referencing the progress of the construction. “[Downtown Muncie] is going to be a phenomenal place. It really is.”

Carl Schafer, owner of Gordy Fine Art & Framing, has not felt an economic strain either and mentioned that construction on Walnut Street has been commonplace for the past few years.

Some owners see the ongoing construction as a vicious cycle.

Toren Scott, owner of Made in Muncie pottery, worries that the current project will be sloppy as he noticed past projects had been.

“I’m partially worried about some of the materials that have been used. Like the sidewalk they initially put in [during a different project], they’ve already replaced now. They used concrete brick instead of ceramic brick. It was devastating,” Scott said. “It just seems like every time they get something fixed, they turn around and start doing something new with construction. And now, a sinkhole that was repaired almost three, four years ago is already back.”

Klisavage also commented on the problems that previous projects have caused.

“They were over time and over budget last year. I can’t imagine that they’re going to not be over time and over budget this year. It’s just a waste, man,” Klisavage said. “We need people in here to keep the lights on.”

Kirk’s Bike Shop feels the construction woes as well. Owner Dave Roane said the shop has been around since 1865, and the construction starting on the first day of summer, usually the busy season, has not helped it maintain its legacy.

“Business is hurting. … Other places around here are laying people off. I’m scared. I don’t want to be laid off because of the construction,” he said. “It’s kind of like home for me. It can be stressful. … I knew a lot about bikes since before I got here. It’s my second home. You start to know [customer’s] names. The mayor comes in here a lot. … It’s always good to see a friend.”

Roane runs specials on bikes and sends out emails to customers in hopes that these incentives will keep Kirk’s Bike Shop afloat for the time being.

Although businesses aren’t receiving monetary aid from the city government, the DWNTWN campaign exists to help with traditional advertising and spreading the word. The campaign consists of programs such as First Thursday, a downtown celebration on the first Thursday of every month that brings foot traffic to these businesses.

This free advertising is not enough for some businesses. “Free the Walnut Six” was the title of an advertisement taken out in the Ball State Daily News by six businesses encouraging students to brave the construction and shop downtown.

The construction is set to end by Oct. 6, however, the Muncie Sanitary District will continue to work on the sewer separation project for longer.


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