Two city councillors pounded the hot pavement on Tuesday, checking in with businesses along West Victoria Street four months into the $13-million arterial reconstruction project.
KTW joined councillors Bill Sarai and Mike O’Reilly, who said they want to help work out any kinks.
“We’re here today to ask, ‘Hey, is there anything else that we could be doing as a city to make it easier and better for you guys?’” O’Reilly said. “Because, obviously, these businesses are bearing the brunt of this project. We want to hear directly from them and are there things that we can do? Sometimes, there’s small little tweaks and that’s what we want to know today.”
First stop was Enterprise Rent-A-Car at 100 West Victoria St.
Business has not been impacted, an employee said, because “people need cars.”
However, it has been inconvenienced — whether explaining to out-of-towners how to get into the business, having the entrance moved for the umpteenth time or going without a bathroom for staff and customers as a result of having no water.
“There’s an issue there. It was pretty much for the whole day. My biggest concern is the safety factor,” one staff member said, noting they work with chemicals.
“Eyewash stations don’t work and stuff like that and nothing was supplied. No outhouses, either. So, where do you go for washing, right? Personally, I think the contractor should have that all set up. He’s making money, right?”
The councillors said they will follow up with staff about bathrooms, noting it could be an easy fix that may cost $100 per day. Enterprise staff are also worried about impending power outages.
“That’s another point we’ll take down here,” Sarai said.
Next stop was Polar Battery at 150 West Victoria St.
Branch manager Kelly Ashley believes the project is moving too quickly down the road without crews first completing the portion in front of his business.
He said it has been frustrating getting trapped in the middle, with contractors and customers accessing other businesses in front of his due to access limitations and driving too quickly.
“So, if the city put up a temporary speed bump?” Sarai suggested for the frontage road.
“We’ve asked,” Ashley said. “I’ve asked, a couple months ago with Extreme to put temporary speed bumps in. There’s one there, it’s really little.”
“That’s nothing to a truck,” Sarai said.
“Exactly,” Ashley said, noting more requests to the city went unanswered.
“We can look into that,” O’Reilly said.
Asked about communications for the project, Ashley said he would prefer more in-person communication, rather than emails. That sentiment was echoed by another business owner.
Ashley recounted an email received on a Friday at lunchtime, in which he was notified he would be without water the following Monday. It wasn’t enough notice, he said, noting it meant running out on the weekend to buy water.
“In my head, there’s communication there, but it could be better,” O’Reilly said, empathizing as a fellow business owner.
Next door, Gino Sirianni of Sirianni Motors did not mince words, calling the past four months the “worst” of his life after 22 years in business.
He tossed in an expletive or two, noting just last week he regained roadway access.
For months, tow trucks were unable to get through and older customers have also avoided the area. Sirianni has picked up vehicles from customers’ homes and estimated business is down by about 25 per cent from previous years.
“In my view, I think that the city should ease off maybe a little bit on the people who own the buildings, on their taxes,” he said.
“And then, in turn, they can give the people who are renting the building some sort of compensation for it.”
“Tax break on the owner of the building and they can pass it on?” Sarai asked.
“That’s what I think,” Sirianni replied. “The bottom line here is money. Anybody who thinks it any different is crazy because, at the end of the month, everybody’s got to pay their bills.”
Sarai replied: “On the flip side, I can hear the argument, whenever there’s progress to be made in the city and it impacts businesses, do we always have to pay for that? It’s not something we’re just doing for beautification. It has to be done. The water main, infrastructure repair that has to be done.”
“What I’m getting at is most projects aren’t two years long,” Sirianni countered.
He suggested the city should have spent more money to get the project done faster.
“Let’s face it, if you pay somebody, this job’s going to get done,” Sirianni said.
After spending nearly an hour visiting the three businesses, Sarai said owners and staff have “legitimate concerns.”
Communication, following through on what the city is telling businesses and making water and/or bathrooms available will be followed up with staff at city hall. The councillors said they will also check in with businesses more often.
“It’s important people utilize their elected officials,” O’Reilly said.
“That’s what we’re here for,” Sarai added.