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Trials and tribulations of Broadway construction

While the business owners on Broadway are excited to see the new look to downtown Alexandria, there has been frustration with confusing detour signs directing people away from the area much earlier than necessary. (Lowell Anderson/Echo Press)1 / 3
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Allie Anderson, Samantha Ellingson, Elliot Fraz, Robin Hoeper, and Amanda Bigger posed in formal attire provided by Jackie J’s for a photo shoot in support of the Broadway construction in the downtown area. (Blaze Fugina/Echo Press)3 / 3

While the Broadway construction is sure to open up the downtown area and make the streets and sidewalks more user friendly, not everyone is all smiles during the project.

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Nancy Tillman, owner of Sweet Seasons on Broadway, has been one of the store owners experiencing frustration, not from the torn up street, but from the signs that help drivers maneuver around it.

“When you’re coming off the freeway there’s a sign that says ‘Road Closed Ahead,’” Tillman explained. “Then it starts to count down and people think they need to turn quickly or it’s their last chance.” The detour ends up taking people from out of town around the Viking Plaza and down to McKay Avenue, completely bypassing downtown.

“I think they feel like they have to get off,” said Tillman. “The signage is just a little too strong.”

While Tillman and other area natives know that the back parking lot is available and Sixth Avenue is open, she is concerned about the detour confusing tourists.

Heading up the project, Jeff Kuhn of Widseth Smith Nolting and Associates said that they are working diligently to get new signs posted that help direct local and tourist traffic to downtown businesses.

Kuhn explained that while they are trying to be responsive to the comments he has received from business owners, the detours are needed to keep larger truck traffic from having to make a tight turn in the downtown area.

“We’re trying to work with the businesses the best we can,” Kuhn said. “I’m currently working on prices for additional signage from the contractor.”

The process has already been set in motion to retrieve additional signs to direct cars to downtown businesses. Kuhn said he is hoping for the authorization to come through sometime this week so that the contractor can move forward on getting the signs made and posted.

The new signs will help direct cars to the downtown area as well as direct any that may have accidentally ended up on the truck detour. The flashing message board off of I-94 has already been changed to identify the detour meant for large trucks.

These changes are being anxiously anticipated by the business owners, including Tillman, who brought the concern to the city more than two weeks ago.

“Everyone loves downtown,” she said with frustration. “But when the wording makes it look like you can’t get there, the tourists don’t know better.”

According to Tillman, there has been a noticeable difference in foot traffic in and out of downtown stores.

“The other day we had our last sale at noon; that’s very unusual,” she said. “It’s sad that’s it’s so quiet that you don’t need two employees.”

Joe Nemo of Magpie said that there has been a noticeable difference in traffic in and out of Magpie as well.

When asked if the warm weather over Memorial Day Weekend may have made a difference on sales, Tillman couldn’t disagree that it could have been a contributing factor, but insists that even when it’s beautiful out, there is always someone roaming in and out of stores.

Other store owners, though, have had nothing but positive things to say regarding the construction.

Jackie Ellingson, owner of Jackie J’s, held an impromptu photo shoot in support of the construction, stating that it is a very necessary and needed improvement for the city of Alexandria.

“We are so lucky to be a part of a growing and improving city that is always looking to better itself for our local retailers and community,” Ellingson said. “We look forward to showing our brides the future new look to our dynamic downtown!”

Melody Warren of Charlie’s Bazaar agreed that the updated downtown will have a more appealing ambiance and will be an asset to the city. She also joked about how the construction itself has brought a welcome change for the time being.

“It’s quieter with the construction going on,” Warren laughed. “There are no semis or motorcycles; it’s been peaceful!”

The businesses who have been frustrated with the construction agree that the update will be for the best in the long run.

Annie Harman
Annie Harman is a reporter for Echo Press and The Osakis Review. She grew up in Detroit Lakes and graduated from the University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire with a degree in print journalism and history in May 2012. Follow her on Twitter at annieharman
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