Second Street closure irks restaurant owners

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Downtown businesses are angry after Second Street SW was suddenly closed to allow for renovations at the old Regal movie theater. Staff photo Downtown businesses are angry after Second Street SW was suddenly closed to allow for renovations at the old Regal movie theater. Staff photo

About 20 years ago, the plan to open Second Street and have traffic cross the Downtown Mall brought dire predictions the pedestrian mall would be ruined. Two weeks ago, the street closed with virtually no notice, and restaurant owners are making dire predictions that they’ll be ruined.

Martin Horn Construction got a permit to close the street to excavate and renovate the former six-screen Regal Cinema into the deluxe, 10-screen Violet Crown Cinema, and was supposed to notify all those affected by the six-week closure. Apparently, that didn’t happen.

Fellini’s owner Jacie Dunkle said she had no notice that the street in front of her restaurant would be closed until she saw the barricade January 16. “My reaction was, what the hell is going on?” she said.

“It definitely hurts,” said Downtown Grille owner Robert Sawrey. “We lost two tables Friday night because someone in a wheelchair was looking for handicapped parking. We were blindsided.”

Dunkle appeared before City Council January 20, and said she’d lost $5,000 in business over the three-day weekend. Councilors were concerned. “What happened?” asked Kristin Szakos. “There’s no way the businesses on that street shouldn’t have been notified.”

Despite the sympathetic response, Dunkle learned that nothing could be done to open the street sooner than the end of February, and according to Jack Horn, Martin Horn president, “Honestly, it could go longer than that.”

He said he paid $10,000 for the permit after deciding with the city that shutting the street would be the safest option while 80 tons of debris are removed and truckloads of concrete and steel are brought in. He compared the process to ripping off a Band-Aid: painful now but resulting in a state-of-the-art $10 million theater with stadium seating.

“It’s a shame,” said Horn. “I love Revolutionary Soup and Alley Light.” And to Dunkle, he said, “I apologize if she wasn’t notified.”

Correction: It was Second Street SW that was closed, not NE.