By Patrick Hedlund
DNAinfo News Editor
LITTLE ITALY — A busy stretch of Grand Street dotted with tourist attractions and longtime merchants is bracing for an upcoming street reconstruction project to install a new water main.
The work, which will begin in late spring, is expected to last two years during the first phase from Broadway to the Bowery, said Craig Chin, a spokesman with the city's Department of Design and Construction.
The second phase, between the Bowery and Essex Street, will begin after the first section is completed, and the entire project is expected to take five-and-a-half years, Chin said.
News of the work caught many Grand Street merchants off guard when informed it would be starting after winter, when many area restaurants open up their sidewalks for outdoor seating.
"Once that happens, there is no business," said Anthony Coppola, manager at Florio's Ristorante near Mulberry Street, noting the restaurant pays thousands of dollars per year for its sidewalk seating permit. "No one wants to sit outside with the jackhammers and the trucks and the dust."
Grand Street, which runs one way eastbound, is also a popular route for drivers who want to avoid the heavy traffic on Canal Street two blocks south.
"Where are the cars going to go?" asked Robert Alleva, owner of the century-old Alleva Dairy at the corner of Mulberry Street.
"Customers come in by car, and they're annoyed enough as it is," he said of narrower Grand Street, which also has a bicycle lane on the south side of the road creating an even tighter passageway for drivers. "They're going to start looking elsewhere."
The project will see new, 36-inch trunk mains replace the street's existing water mains as part of a plan to connect the existing water distribution system to the city's new Third Water Tunnel, a massive project designed to give the city another connection to its water supply upstate.
Similar water-main projects downtown — like one on Hudson Street in TriBeCa and another on Chambers Street — have already been deemed "hideous" and a "nightmare" by neighbors just months into the work.
Chin explained that street detours and closures accompany any construction projects of this kind, but that emergency vehicles will still have full access to the roads. Periodic water shutoffs will also result as work progresses, he noted.
While traffic gridlock didn't alarm employees of the Solita Hotel near the corner of Lafayette Street, the prospect of loud construction work disturbing their guests gave them pause.
"The traffic is not that big of a deal — it's the noise," said Stephanie Booth, the front desk manager and director of sales and marketing at the 12-story hotel, noting that other recent construction work nearby caused guests to complain of noise at 7 a.m.
"We don't have to give them a discount," she said of the noise issues, "but we also want to keep our guests happy."
At the restaurant Jup She at the corner of Baxter Street, owner Judy Lim worried about noise and where she would get deliveries when the construction starts.
"It's not going to help us, the tourist business especially," she said, noting that customers from the many tour buses that drive down Grand Street may be prevented from passing through. "I'm just in a daze right now — this is the first I'm hearing of this."
The city is currently soliciting bids for the project and will select a winning bid later this month, Chin added.