The College Avenue Promenade project, a $4 million undertaking in downtown Blacksburg, will change both the traffic pattern and parking spaces available, as well as rejuvenate the area for pedestrian friendly activities.
This rejuvenation began in late November and is well on its way to the completion goal of July.
“The purpose of (the project) is really downtown enhancement. It will encourage people to spend time downtown, as they will be able to sit outside and enjoy community,” said Laureen Blakemore, the Downtown Business Inc. executive director. “It’s also bridging the divide between the school and downtown because it begins at Squires, and it really connects the students with the town and the town with Virginia Tech.”
A large portion of the storefronts on College Avenue rely on walkers for business, however there is still some apprehension about the loss of 20 parking spots on the street.
“Our biggest concern that we receive from consumers and customers is the places to park downtown, so it’s always a little scary when some more parking spaces are being taken, but it is going to make such a difference in the look and feel of the downtown, so it’s worth it,” Blakemore said.
Blakemore added that the town is not worried about parking issues because a parking lot behind Sharkey’s was recently purchased to offer more metered spots; more meters were added to the Squire’s parking lot as well.
“The only dilemma right now that we’re trying to work out is how we’re going to tackle the parking hurdle, but we’ll get it worked out one way or another," said Travis Bishop, sales manager for High Peak Sportswear. "Downtown is going to be really nice; it’s just the pain of going through it right now.”
College Avenue previously provided parking spots on both sides of the road, but with the construction, the road will be converted so traffic will be one-way from Main Street toward Otey Street.
“In the end, I think they’re planning on making this road much more scenic and accessible. It will nice and I definitely support it,” said Ashley Smith, the store manager of Gobbler Cakes. “Right now it’s just really inconvenient so I don’t think making the road one-way was the smartest move for traffic.”
Neither Gobbler Cakes nor High Peak Sportswear have seen large effects in business pertaining to the construction over the last few months. However, according to both Smith and Bishop, many customers complain about the lack of storefront parking.
“Some feel that whenever you take away a parking space you are creating a problem, but we can all see the bigger picture,” Blakemore said.
According to Blacksburg.gov, “sidewalks will be widened to create opportunities for outdoor dining, flexibility for community events, and allow for public formal and informal gatherings.”
With the widening of the sidewalks, businesses that serve tables will have the option to purchase space on the sidewalks on an annual basis to provide outdoor seating.
“I’m hoping it will be a win-win situation for us when it’s over, because there will be more people walking downtown and we’ll be able to serve people outside,” said Michael Buchanan, owner of Souvlaki restaurant on College Avenue.
Buchanan admits that his business has slowed down since construction began, however he supports the construction, hoping the new atmosphere will bring more costumers.
“There’s no problem with the construction as long as it gets done,” Buchanan said.