By DAVID SKOLNICK
A major sewer project that has shut down a key section of West Federal Street, one of downtown’s busiest roads, for the past two weeks has some business owners up in arms.
Some owners on and near West Federal and Phelps streets say city officials failed to give them notice that the $1 million project to replace storm and sanitary sewers would shut off that area and Phelps between West Commerce and West Boardman streets.
Robert Faraglia, owner of Roberto’s Italian Ristorante at 103 W. Federal St., found out that the section of the street where his business is located was closed Feb. 4, the day the project started. A portable toilet also was placed in front of his restaurant.
“It was a complete surprise,” he said.
Next to the portable toilet, which was removed two days after he contacted Councilwoman Annie Gillam, D-1st, were three large metal pipes that are being placed in the ground as part of this project.
Complaints to city officials about the pipes were ignored, Faraglia said. They were moved Thursday after Faraglia asked workers with Marucci and Gaffney Excavating, the Youngstown company doing the job, to relocate them.
“There are two buildings east of me that are vacant,” Faraglia said. “They could have put all the equipment over there. Instead, I had a port-o-john in front of my restaurant.”
The road closing has hurt business, particularly when the project started, he said.
West Federal between Hazel and Market streets is restricted to local traffic only and is completely closed at the Phelps intersection. Also, Phelps between West Commerce and West Boardman streets is closed though motorists can drive the wrong way up Phelps between West Boardman and West Federal to park there. Those streets will reopen Tuesday, said Charles Shasho, deputy director of the city’s public works department.
Phelps between West Federal and West Commerce should reopen in a couple of weeks, he said.
The restrictions on West Federal have caused some havoc. A car trying to make a U-turn between Phelps and Market hit a streetlight, ripping it from its base. It is resting against a tree, the main reason why it hasn’t fallen to the ground. Large delivery trucks have had to drive in reverse on West Federal after deliveries until they reach Hazel, where a turn can be made easier.
Barry Silver, owner of Silver’s Vogue Shop at 27 W. Federal St., said, “I had no warning at all. A couple of days after work started, I was told by [a city employee] that there would be a disruption.”
The clothing store has seen a 50-percent decline in business since the road closure and restrictions, Silver said.
“The work needs to be done, but it would be nice if they gave me a warning first,” he said. “Also, there is more than enough room to have eastbound traffic on Federal [Street] turning onto Phelps toward Boardman [Street]. Communication is the key. If you’re warned, you don’t get the unexpected. But the city closed all of these blocks, and my customers can’t find parking so they’re just leaving.”
Shasho said he and Lyndsey Hughes, downtown director of events, special projects and marketing, went to several businesses in the affected area beforehand to tell them about the work. But, he said, they didn’t speak to every business owner.
Shasho said there was also a mention of the project in The Vindicator informing people about the road closures and restrictions.
“We’ve received a few calls [complaining], but there’s not a lot we can do,” he said. “It’s a large project. People need to be patient.”
He added: “I’m sorry for the inconvenience. Everything will be resolved shortly.”
Gillam, whose ward includes downtown, said the next time there is a project that affects this many businesses, the city should “make sure everybody knows. It was in the newspaper and on the news, but [in the future] we’ll have to pass out information to everyone downtown. We need to notify people a little bit different downtown. It affects their business. It’s been a mess there.”
City officials have complained that the state wasn’t keeping them informed of the illegal dumping of drilling waste on Salt Springs Road. While this is certainly not as serious, Gillam agreed that the city has an obligation to do a better job of informing business owners and residents about projects that have an impact such as this downtown improvement project.
Al Adi, owner of the Downtown Circle, a convenience store and deli at 116 W. Federal St., said the city “sent us a short notice that the road would be closed and the sewer would be repaired.”
The work has “hurt the business. A lot of people come from far away for our Mediterranean deli and can’t park near us,” he said. “But it’s better that it’s done now than in June, July, August and September. It’s for the betterment of downtown. But I hope to God they hurry up and get it done.”
The project will next move up Phelps to West Commerce, then to Lincoln Avenue. There is a pedestrian walkway between West Commerce and West Wood streets that will be dismantled and replaced, Shasho said.
The current bridge “zigzags” in about four locations. After the sewer lines are replaced, a new walkway will be built that will be straight except for one shift, Shasho said.
The steps are near Erie Terminal Place, a 40-apartment building at 112 W. Commerce St.
Dominic Marchionda, who owns the building, had urged the city to eliminate the “zigzags” as they’ve become locations for people to drink alcoholic beverages during the day.
“It’s been a problem,” Gillam said. “It’s become a bigger problem” in recent years.
About three years ago, the city replaced storm and sanitary sewers on Phelps Street between West Federal and West Front streets that closed traffic in that area.