Water Street construction closure affects businesses

Ashley Williams, the general manager and marketing director at Water Street restaurant, says the partial closing of the road with the same name has been bad for business. Rammelkamp Foto Ashley Williams, the general manager and marketing director at Water Street restaurant, says the partial closing of the road with the same name has been bad for business. Rammelkamp Foto

Anyone attempting to drive east down Water Street over the past couple weeks has noticed a large traffic sign intercepting her mission—and some business owners in that area aren’t happy about it.

Construction of a seven-unit mixed-use building at 550 E. Water St. (called 550 Water Street) will cause intermittent lane closure for the next nine months, according to city spokesperson Miriam Dickler.

“It’s difficult to quantify exactly how much the partial closing has impacted our business, but I can definitely say it is significant,” says Ashley Williams, the general manager and marketing director at Water Street, the eatery located at 117 Fifth St. SE in the former Tempo space, which has only been open since the end of September.

There have been several instances when customers have wanted to eat at her restaurant for dinner, she says, but they were driving in from the west on Water Street or tried to make a left-hand turn after crossing over the Downtown Mall on Fourth Street, and were not able to do so.

“It is far from an easy one-block detour, and I have talked to many potential diners who have said that they ended up giving up because they got turned around or got stuck in traffic and just decided to go somewhere else,” she says.

A small parking lot once leased by C&O Restaurant, which sold to 550 Water Street developers for more than $1 million, is also blocked by the closure.

“When Dave [Simpson] sold me the restaurant, he said that parking lot could go at any time,” C&O chef and proprietor Dean Maupin says. “Of course, that day came and went, but honestly it has not affected anything at all.”

Though it has been more inconvenient for patrons, Maupin says “everyone seems to be taking it in stride and we really appreciate that.”

As a way around the detour, he says his crew has started offering complimentary valet service to guests on Friday and Saturday evenings.

“I’m just thankful the construction noise ends at 5 every day,” he says.

Dickler says the city is working on a plan to open the street to two-way traffic once the current utility work in the roadway is complete, which should happen on February 3. After that, the detour will only be in effect during the day, and two-way traffic will resume on nights and weekends. This will last for about four weeks.

At the beginning of March, the concrete barriers will return, but two-way traffic will be maintained by using the loading and valet parking spaces along Water Street. Two valet spaces will be moved one block down on Water Street, and two will move around the corner on Fifth Street. There will be one additional detour toward the end of the project to install gas to the new building and repave the roadway.

“Unfortunately, road projects often come with unavoidable impacts to businesses and property owners,” says Dickler. “Our staff works with those owners and the project team to mitigate those impacts as much as possible.”

Though the road closure is temporary, one business owner says blocked views of the mountains and Charlottesville favorites such as the Pink Warehouse are forever.

Nora Ayala, the owner of Low—vintage clothing, records and antiques, says before she moved into her Fifth Street location in 2010, she knew 550 Water Street would be built, but “I really, really dislike that every open space on Water Street is going to be gone,” she says. “It’ll be so cold.”

This isn’t the only inconvenience downtown visitors and workers can expect on Water Street, and perhaps it foreshadows the construction and detours stemming from West2nd, the fleet of luxury condos going in at the current City Market site later this year. Stay tuned.