The nearly 50 small businesses that call McIntire Plaza home have made their voices heard above the din of incessant construction that stretches from their front yard at the intersection of McIntire Road and Harris Street down to the U.S. 250 Bypass.
Responding to steady complaints from commuters and customers, City Manager Maurice Jones met last month with some of the business owners to hear firsthand the financial hardships they’d been experiencing.
Days after C-VILLE published an article detailing their fiscal woes, the city took several steps to try and help businesses in the plaza.
For starters, the city’s engineers adjusted the timing of the red lights at the intersections of McIntire Road and U.S. 250, as well as at McIntire Road and Harris Street, so that cars can turn right on red, improving traffic flow for customers headed to or from the plaza, according to Jones.
The city also painted a large white box where McIntire Road intersects with Harris Street with signs declaring, “Do Not Block the Intersection.” Jones said a police officer has been stationed at the intersection during busy periods to keep the intersection traffic free.
Signs have also gone up along Preston Avenue promoting Harris Street as an alternate route to get to McIntire Plaza.
The steps seem to have helped, with Jones describing response from Plaza tenants as positive.
“We’ll continue to monitor the situation and work with the businesses to address their concerns where we can,” he said.
One gesture the city made—a promise to match a $5,000 advertising campaign for the businesses if they can raise an initial $5,000 between them—has fallen by the wayside, according to Matt Monson, owner of Great Harvest Bread Co. But, he said, it’s not the city’s fault.
“Honestly, the problem is on our end,” said Monson, who initially took on the task of rallying other McIntire Plaza businesses behind the fundraising drive. Differences of opinion on how to spend that money have gotten in the way, he said.
“There are like 70 different businesses here, and trying to make a decision on something like this is just difficult. It came back down to all of us wondering how we’d ever decide how it got distributed and who was going to do that work.”
Beate Casati, owner of La Linea Bella!, said that business has been steady in recent weeks, and she has exhausted her advertising budget for the year already. Both Casati and Monson agreed that the stress of day-to-day operations means business owners don’t have the time or energy to coordinate a new advertising campaign involving dozens of businesses.
While the city has increased its support for the business owners, several say they’ve also reached out to their landlord, Woodard Properties, with mixed results. None would divulge any type of assistance they’d been offered.
Woodard Properties’ manager of McIntire Plaza, Mike Morris, also declined to comment on any communications between Woodard and its tenants.
“We have no desire to offer proof of our intentions or validation of our actions in regards to our tenants,” he wrote in an email he sent to C’ville Coffee owner Toan Nguyen and to C-VILLE Weekly. “We consider these things private matters between those with which we do business.”
Morris also expressed support for both the City of Charlottesville and the contractors, “both diligently working to complete a project that has been in the works for years.”
Perhaps the biggest potential boon for tenants is set for the end of this summer, when the McIntire/Harris intersection will be reconfigured to improve pedestrian crossings with the addition of crosswalks, pedestrian countdowns, and walk buttons, according to Jeanette Janiczek, the city’s Urban Construction Initiative project manager.
In a follow-up phone call, Morris said he has tried to keep businesses focused on the prospect that the project will ultimately bring long term benefits by increasing and smoothing traffic to the area.
“Obviously it’s something that has to be done and it’s an unpleasant situation for everybody involved,” said Morris. “But at the same time, if you want to make omelets, you’ve got to crack a few eggs. The best situation is where they get done and we can move on. Obviously the faster they get done, the better.”
The city has taken steps to ease the plight of tenants at McIntire Plaza, who say construction of the McIntire/250 exchange is hurting business.