LAKEVIEW — It has been almost a year since water main construction began on Broadway, and although businesses are welcoming the news that major work will be finished this week, it's hard for them to be totally happy.
"The good news is you don't have to do a water main for another 100 years," said Maureen Martino, executive director of the Lakeview East Chamber of Commerce. "The bad news is some of our businesses are really suffering. They're hoping the community comes out and supports them, moving forward, so they can try to recuperate some of their losses."
The chamber is organizing an event from 4-8 p.m. Oct. 20 called "Come Back to Broadway" in an effort to encourage shoppers deterred by the construction to support Broadway businesses.
The event will open with a ribbon-cutting at 4 p.m. at Broadway and Melrose, and until 8 p.m. shops and restaurants from Belmont to Grace will offer special deals and promotions while live music fills the streets. Details on the deals can be found on the chamber's website.
Martino said based on a formal survey as well as conversations with business owners last month, revenue for the stores and restaurants along the affected area of Broadway was down by as much as 50 percent, and by an average of 28 percent. Martino said the construction cost the area about $1.5 million in revenue.
Water main work is always a long, painful and complicated process, Martino acknowledged, but she said this particular project was mishandled.
"It was probably one of the worst-executed projects I've known from my time in this office," she said.
The problem boiled down to poor communication from project managers and various contractors and subcontractors, she said.
Timelines changed frequently, and changes weren't adequately communicated to the chamber or affected businesses, she said.
Street parking was prohibited even when there appeared to be no work going on, and an alarming amount of dust in the air not only drove away potential customers but led business owners and workers to express concerns. Earlier this year, a Jeep fell into a sinkhole.
Richard Dayhoff, a fashion designer who runs Zeglio Custom Clothiers, 3341 N. Broadway, said he would contact 44th Ward Ald. Tom Tunney's office as many as three times a week begging for something to be done about the dust.
"The city just didn't follow through the way we were told they were going to," Dayhoff said. "I would send an email and say, 'The dust is so bad today. Please help.' I have probably 100 emails to [Dan Manoli, Tunney's director of infrastructure]. And he would say, 'I requested the water trucks from the city, and they'll be there.' And they would never show up.
"I'm not blaming Dan," Dayhoff added. "Dan sent those requests to the city."
A representative from the city's Department of Water Management could not immediately be reached for comment.
Dust from water main construction on Broadway coated all surfaces in affected businesses, making constant sweeping and dusting a necessity. [DNAinfo/Ariel Cheung]
"I dreaded coming to work every day," Dayhoff said. "So many times I just wanted to hang my hat and say, 'I can't do this,' because you're inhaling this dust, and they haven't opened this road up like this for 100 years, so who knows what's down there? I would go home at night and my throat would be so raw."
The project also affected Uptown and Edgewater, but Martino said the section of Broadway in Lakeview felt the brunt of the impact.
"We're just so densely populated," she said. "When you go farther north, Broadway is a much wider street, and it doesn't seem that it was impacted as much as we were because we have all these small businesses, and the density is very tight."
Bennett Lawson, chief of staff for 44th Ward Ald. Tom Tunney, said the completion date of the construction project had been pushed back several times since March because of various complications.
Those complications included coordinating with utility companies because the water mains were buried below service lines for AT&T, Comcast, RCN, Peoples Gas and ComEd, Gary Litherland, spokesman for the city's Water Department, said in April.
But Lawson said the road resurfacing will be finished in time for Sunday's Chicago Marathon, and after that, all remaining construction, including putting in concrete bus pads that last longer than asphalt, is much less disruptive.
"Thank God for the marathon," Martino said. "We don't know how many weeks would have been added on for the final asphalting if it weren't for the marathon."