Business owners on 61st Ave. S.W. are reporting up to 60 per cent loss of sales due to the delayed construction of a Greenway Corridor that links the Chinook LRT stop and the Chinook Centre.

This project entails widening sidewalks, improving lighting, landscaping and adding street furniture. According to the City of Calgary website, the goal of this corridor is to make the area a safer, more attractive space for pedestrians to use. It was originally scheduled for completion by September. However, an undated update released on the City of Calgary website states that the redevelopment project will still be going on until the first week of December, weather permitting.

In an interview, Saadiq Mohiuddin, project manager with the city’s Transportation Infrastructure, says this delay was mostly due to the wet weather during July and August. However, the relocations of utilities in the area have also contributed to the delay.

“It’s very frustrating. I see their work is very slow. You see hardly [anyone] working on the weekend, [or] even longer hours, after hours.”  – Mudassar Zia

With this intersection being one of the busiest outside of downtown Calgary, pedestrians walking along 61st Ave. must cross nine lanes of traffic on Macleod Trail to get to Chinook Centre.

“The work that’s involved in the Greenway Corridor is creating a more safe and accessible space for pedestrians,” says Mohiuddin, “So what we’re doing as part of that work is…just making it a more lively and safe environment for pedestrians.”

Construction on the road and sidewalk started in May, with a total budget of $9 million.

According to the city’s website, “stakeholder communication and engagement is an important component of the 61 Ave. S.W. Greenway Corridor project,” but multiple business owners say they feel helpless.

Creative Modern Nails

Bao Nguyen, owner of Creative Modern Nails located in a strip mall on Macleod Trail and 61st Ave., says despite being in business for more than a decade, this year has been the worst with sales dropping 50 per cent.

“I don’t even have enough money to pay for the rent. I usually have four [workers], but now [there’s] only two of us. I had to lay off one and another one stopped working now.”

Nguyen says the city should work with the strip mall owner to come to an agreement because he’s still having to pay the same rent despite construction surpassing its anticipated completion.

“I think, if I talk to the city they won’t do anything. They do whatever they want and we cannot talk,” he adds.

Construction along 61st Avenue is well underway as construction workers widen sidewalks. Photo by Emily Thwaites

Keith’s Deli

Located in the same strip mall, Keith’s Deli has been hit equally as hard.

“It’s certainly affecting my business a lot and customers complain how hard it is to get to me,” says owner Jim Hannan.

After being in business for 44 years, Hannan says he has built strong relationships with customers, but it has been very difficult for them to reach the store since construction started. Access to the strip mall off 61st Ave. has been partially blocked by construction, and customers say “they’ve had to drive around to get in, or else they couldn’t and had to go someplace else,” says Hannan.

Depending on the day, Hannan says sales have dropped 40 to 60 per cent, and if the weather is bad, it’s even worse.

Much like other affected businesses, employee hours at Keith’s Deli have been cut. “[I] can’t have three or four people standing around if there’s nothing happening, so the staff come in later and leave earlier.”

One benefit, says Hannan, is that he’s getting business from construction workers.

“They need to eat, so that’s a little bit of a bonus. But for my customers, my regulars, that’s not a great trade off.”

Hannan says he hasn’t tried reaching out to the city.

“I wasn’t really sure who to contact. Of course they’re just going to brush you off – they’ll blame the weather and a number of things.”

Since the project is now nearing its completion, Hannan says there’s not much he feels he can do at this point.

“I’m sad they didn’t hit the target. It’s an extra two months and I’m sure other people in the area [are] feeling the same [way],” he adds.

Mac’s Convenience Store

Further down 61st Ave., opposite Chinook LRT station, is Mac’s convenience store, where owner, Mudassar Zia, reports a similar drop in sales.

“It started very bad and they closed this intersection, 1 A Street and 61st Ave., for almost four weeks. That was really when it was too much, almost 50 to 60 per cent down,” he says.

According to Zia, although business has gone back up since construction started, it is still 30 to 40 per cent lower than it was this time last year.

Like many local businesses, Zia isn’t pleased about the delayed completion date. “It’s very frustrating. I see their work is very slow. You see hardly [anyone] working on the weekend, [or] even longer hours, after hours.”

“I don’t even have enough money to pay for the rent. I usually have four [workers], but now [there’s] only two of us. I had to lay off one and another one stopped working now.” -Bao Nguyen

Employees at Mac’s have also faced cuts due to lack of business caused by the construction. “I had to reduce hours, I’m working alone at this time. Before, I had six [employees]. Now I’m working on the weekend just to survive,” Zia says.

When he initially heard about plans for the Greenway Corridor, Zia says he was very excited and thought the Corridor would be beneficial for pedestrians. He hopes that a widened sidewalk will increase the flow of customers, which could be promising for business.

The voice of the city

Mohiuddin says that while he can’t specifically speak to the decrease in sales that businesses along 61st Ave. are experiencing, the city is doing what they can to speed up the process.

“We are working really hard to get the construction done as fast as possible to limit those impacts. So a lot of the accesses that were closed because of the construction work we’re doing are now open and the accesses along 61st Ave. have been opened as of [the week of Nov. 14],” he says.

Mohiuddin adds that there is always someone to speak to at the city.

“There is a voice and there is someone on the other end listening to that. So I would encourage anyone who has any concerns to call 211 and let us know,” says Mohiuddin.

Currently, pedestrians are using the newly improved sidewalk that is open. However, some pedestrians are wondering whether the $9 million budget is worth the changes.

Ray Joshi, a Calgarian pedestrian already making use of the improvements, says that they are beautiful, but he questions the price tag.

“I mean it’s nice, it’s wide open – you can’t deny that. At the end of the day, $9 million seems like a lot of money though too.”

Joshi feels the city could have made better use of the money, like putting it towards health-care or education. However, he notes that the larger walkway will be nice for pedestrians making their way across to and from Chinook Centre.

ALSA Road Construction is managing the project on 61st Ave.. The project co-ordinator declined to comment when approached by the Calgary Journal.

In addition, a $13 million pedestrian bridge over Macleod Trail will connect pedestrians from 61st Ave. to Chinook Centre. Construction of this separate project has begun, and completion is scheduled for late 2017. The City of Calgary is partnering with Cadillac Fairview, owners of Chinook Centre, to fund the project, each contributing $6.5 million. The bridge is designed to create a safer, more accessible pedestrian crossing over Macleod Trail, and also decrease traffic congestion at this busy intersection.

ethwaites@cjournal.ca, peason@cjournal.ca

The editor reponsible for this article is Karina Yaceyko and can be contacted at kyaceyko@cjournal.ca