Work in Progress

Work in Progress
The dreaded orange barrel can only mean one thing: construction.

As the temperatures drop and the ground begins to freeze, many road works projects throughout the city will soon wrap up, or at least be put on hold until the spring thaw. But it’s not hard to remember the thick of construction season, which in 2014 felt particularly punishing. Maybe it’s the coupling of road construction with an upswing in residential and commercial development, or perhaps it’s that the concentration along main arteries (East Johnson Street, Verona Road, the Beltline) made those menacing orange barrels seem downright inescapable. But what’s clear is that businesses near construction zones—be it along torn-up roads or in torn-up malls—can take a hit. Limited parking, street closures, dumpsters and congestion can all deter customers. A survey conducted by the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce found that many businesses see a decline in revenue when there’s construction nearby and don’t necessarily see cash flow pick back up once the pits are filled in and the bulldozers clear out. But planning ahead and using creative marketing campaigns can help (“Monona Moola” was a successful tactic when Monona Drive was ripped up, for example). And the upside? Usually at the end of construction, streets are not only repaved, but enhanced: wider sidewalks, shiny bike racks, easier public transportation and a joy among business owners and consumers alike that—phew—it’s finally over. 

The city of Madison knows it’s hard for a business to make it through a rough patch of construction. That’s why departments like City Planning and Engineering and the Office of Business Development work with businesses to prepare them for the challenges ahead. “We hold public meetings prior to the project and the design phase, and invite all the businesses [affected] and explain what to expect with the construction and how business will be impacted,” says Glen Yoerger, an engineer with the city who’s overseeing the city side of the East Johnson Street construction. The city is already meeting with Monroe Street businesses, and that construction isn’t scheduled to begin until 2017. Once construction begins, contractors and engineers and planners hold open meetings with businesses and neighbors to keep them updated on the project’s progress. Aside from meeting with businesses, city government helps with signage to direct customers to alternate parking and relaxes some parking restrictions to increase parking turnover. “Businesses want to see that,” Yoerger says. The state’s Department of Transportation, which oversees construction projects like the Verona Road redevelopment, offers similar resources. 

East Johnson Street business owner Steve Wilke explains how his chiropractic office has been affected by the months-long construction 

When did you first hear about the construction on East Johnson? I didn’t hear about it until the day before my offer was accepted for the building this February, and then I almost didn’t sign. But I really like this area and the neighborhood, so I decided to do it anyway. 

How has the construction on East Johnson affected your business?  At first I thought it would be difficult for patients to get to me and park. But most people park on Dayton Street—they’re willing to walk a block or so to get here. It’s actually the noise that’s impacted me the most. A chiropractic office is supposed to be calm and relaxing. When the construction first started I actually had stuff falling off the walls. I really haven’t promoted my business much so far because of the noise, so it’s been purposefully slow. But [the noise] is just the nature of the beast. It’s going to be beautiful when it’s done. 

Has anything about the construction surprised you? I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how helpful the construction workers have been. They’ve been fantastic. I know many of them on a first-name basis now.

Tell me a little bit about the Turn On Johnson project. It’s a business development initiative to make people aware that [businesses on East Johnson Street] are here. That’s it’s still worth visiting us. We’ve done coupons and special events. It’s been really nice, and I think it’s bringing people together and strengthening the business community. It’s now morphing into a new business association called the Cap East Business Association.

Steve Wilke is the owner of Wilke Chiropractic & Wellness at 824 E. Johnson St.