The first phase of a $4 million College Avenue makeover began on June 27.
The College Avenue Promenade will condense the road to a single lane that flows towards campus and on to Otey Street, and the lost lane will become part of 28-foot sidewalks with trees, plants and outdoor seating.
The construction will cause a loss of about 20 parking spaces along the street, but the town has planned for the disruption by purchasing a parking lot on Progress Street, according to Lisa Sedlak, Blacksburg spokeswoman.
The project, which has been in the works since 2001, is designed “to create a safe and pleasant pedestrian experience that fosters a sense of community,” with a focus on diversity and sustainability. The goal is to create an area that is conducive to outdoor festivals and events while being an attractive pedestrian destination on a daily basis.
The outdoor seating will include café tables and chairs, which businesses will be able to lease from the town. Gillie’s, which already has some outdoor seating, expects to expand their current number of tables, according to manager Christina Gardener.
Other restaurants may also add seating.
Across the street, more impromptu seating will be added by means of a “seat wall.” A low wall will replace the iron fence dividing the sidewalk and the Henderson Lawn, which will be useful for musical events and festivals.
The town also said online that the new wall will symbolize improved “town and gown” relations with Virginia Tech, because the low wall will be more welcoming and less divisive.
The construction began with the lane closest to Theatre 101 closing. Traffic will only move towards Main Street, but the sidewalks and businesses will remain open.
The work will be done in different phases, which are strategically ordered to minimize impact on local businesses.
“We’re working with each individual business during peak times, like during football season, to make sure that we’re working in an area that is not in front of most of the businesses on College Avenue,” Sedlak said.
Businesses at North Main Street and Prices Fork Road saw a decline in business during the traffic circle construction, but College Avenue businesses and the town are already planning on ways to prevent this.
“We’re working with the town on that to make sure business won’t drop off. We’ve become quite a staple in this town, and I think people aren’t going to forget about Gillie’s even though there’s a little bit of construction going on. We’re going to try to stay positive,” Gardener said.
One way to do this will be throughways to make sure customers can still access the stores, as well as signage to indicate that businesses are staying open.
Construction is expected to finish during the summer of 2013, according to Sedlak, and is funded half by Blacksburg and half by the state of Virginia.