Downtown Ann Arbor business owners say State Street construction delays have hurt sales

State Street closed to traffic on Aug. 27, 2022 in Ann Arbor. (Meredith Bruckner)

ANN ARBOR – This is a big weekend at the University of Michigan: Homecoming combined with Parent’s & Family Weekend.

During a normal year, businesses would be preparing for large crowds and big sales. But owners of the shops and restaurants on U-M’s doorstep on State Street say an extended road closure has impacted foot traffic and revenue.

“Football brings in out of towners, it brings in alumni,” said Ed Davidson, owner of Bivouac. “So, are they going to say: ‘Its not worth walking around there?’”

Davidson said after a reasonably successful Book Rush -- when parents first bring their students to campus -- he is most concerned about this weekend that will bring thousands of visitors to town.

“For me, its like another weekend of Christmas,” he said. “It’s huge. And I just think the streets being torn up is going to be awful.”

State Street facing south toward William Street in downtown Ann Arbor on Aug. 27, 2022. (Meredith Bruckner)

The construction is a two-part project by the city and the Downtown Development Authority, which includes a water main replacement and Phase 1 of the State Street redesign. State between William and Washington will become Ann Arbor’s first curbless street. Other changes to the streetscape will include planters at corners, a new corner plaza at State and North U and pedestrian countdown timers.

Read: Take a look at Ann Arbor’s State Street redesign

The work was scheduled to be completed by Labor Day, but is now four weeks behind schedule.

With eight home football games this season, business owners are frustrated that the project stretched several weekends into football season -- concerns they say they shared with the city and DDA before the work began.

“I made it clear that, from my perspective, if you have to do it let’s do it, but it can’t impact football season,” said M Den owner Scott Hirth. “And we were assured that it wouldn’t impact football season.”

Hirth said he felt it was a missed opportunity to reach visitors at a critical time of year.

“It wasn’t our best foot forward as a city,” said Hirth. “We never got a chance to make a first impression on the freshman and their parents because that street was a disaster. It was supposed to be done. I still to this minute don’t know why it happened.”

While Hirth said revenue didn’t take too much of a hit during the construction, other businesses can’t say the same. Restaurants that lost patio space due to the roadwork saw a steep decrease in customers and impacts were felt beyond the main thoroughfare, said State Street District executive director France Todoro-Hargreaves.

The construction site on Sept. 19, 2022. (Maura Thomson | Ann Arbor DDA)

“It’s going to be a long September if this is continuing until the end of the month,” said Todoro-Hargreaves. “We definitely were seeing the effects beyond the street. I know some of the businesses on Liberty and Maynard felt it as the construction was going on.

“So, when we were told when it was going to extend, one of the first things we asked was when they could get the intersections of William and State and Liberty and State open. When those were closed, it was very difficult to open our neighborhood at all.”

Maura Thomson, communications manager for the DDA, said input from the district and business owners was taken into consideration before the project started.

“This is a two-year project,” said Thomson. “For Phase 1, we spoke with the State Street District and the businesses and we really listened to them. We heard from them that starting after graduation, shutting it down for Art Fair and being complete by Labor Day were all really important. All of those things we heard them and we did what we could to make that happen. Needless to say, we did not meet that schedule.”

Crews ran into unexpected issues like the delayed removal of a DTE gas line which impacted work, a delay in getting some materials and bad weather, said Thomson. The city put liquidated damages into the contract to incentivize the contractor to meet all deadlines, otherwise face extra fines.

Some business owners have inquired about receiving the funds from the contractor penalties to cover revenue losses during construction. But Thomson said the contract amount will likely be reduced in this case, so no extra money will be paid to the city.

“We’ve worked with the contractor to try to prioritize what’s most important to the neighborhood,” said Thomson. “Getting concrete on the west side of the street is a priority so businesses with patios on the street could get those back out as soon as possible.”

Concrete pouring on Sept. 19, 2022 on State Street in downtown Ann Arbor. (Maura Thomson | Ann Arbor DDA)

Concrete has been poured at the William Street intersection, which should be open by this weekend, said Thomson.

The estimated full opening of State Street is now set for Oct. 7.

About the Author:

Meredith has worked for WDIV since August 2017 and was voted one of Washtenaw County's best journalists in 2019 by eCurrent's readers. She covers the community of Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in International Broadcast Journalism from City University London, UK.