For most of the summer, orange construction cones have guided motorists through the busy S.W. 21st and Wanamaker intersection — a major commercial center customers are now avoiding, businesses managers said.
The $4.4 million repaving project — originally slated to be finished Aug. 30 — will now stretch into November following a debacle involving utility lines that weren’t moved on time. Though traffic flows in all directions through the intersection, some parking lot entrances are blocked and turning at the intersection is restricted. Adding nearly two more months of limited traffic in the area could dampen business for the stores in the nearby strip malls, but city staff said the delay may have been unavoidable.
Casey Campbell, owner of Float Midwest, a float tank spa at 2120 S.W. Brandywine Lane, said business steadily grew after opening in January, but when traffic was restricted at the intersection earlier this summer, his business saw a 50 percent decline in the first month.
“It almost put us out of business right then,” he said.
Now he is worried third- and fourth-quarter sales will continue to fall because the strip mall’s parking lot access from S.W. 21st and Wanamaker is blocked, so customers have to rely on the often-unnoticed S.W. 22nd Park to the south. The confusion about how to get to Midwest Float, which offers sensory deprivation tanks designed for relaxation, irritates customers, making a difficult task of selling the experience, he said.
“When they come in frustrated, it takes longer to de-stress,” he said. “That’s the worst-case scenario — a first-time floater. They’re running late and they’ve got to fight traffic. Then they have to do it again when they leave.”
Next door, Ego Salon and Day Spa owner Mark Sowders echoed Campbell’s concern about the confusion and said “pretty much everyone that walks in comments on how frustrating it is to get in here.”
Loyal customers have kept the salon from seeing an extreme depression in sales, he said, but better signage helping drivers navigate the construction would help.
“After (construction) last year, we’ve tried really hard to educate customers about other ways to get here,” he said.
Mat Rothwell, store manager at Vintage Stock, 1930 S.W. Wanamaker, said he expected to see a decline in business after construction slowed sales last year. He talked to other managers in his strip mall to the northeast of the intersection recently.
“They all said they’re down year over year,” he said.
More oversight in the future
Construction at the intersection stopped June 11 when crews from Bettis Asphalt & Construction discovered utility lines for Cox Communications, Kansas Gas Service and AT&T hadn’t been removed. The utilities said their infrastructure would be clear of the intersection by July 27, but failed to do so until the first week of August. A slight delay followed because of wet conditions, according to city engineer Brian Faust.
Issues with utility lines aren’t uncommon in heavily developed areas, he said, but typically they are handled quickly between the contractor and the utility company. The city and Bettis couldn’t move forward with the project until the lines were cleared and a Westar Energy pole was moved.
City staff have been aware of the frustration surrounding S.W. 21st and Wanamaker, Faust said.
“It’s full steam ahead,” he said, calling on businesses to be patient.
With future projects, an effort will be made to locate utilities precisely during the design phase, he said, even if that means going out to the site and digging test holes. Monthly meetings with utility companies about construction projects also have a renewed focus on locating infrastructure more efficiently, he said.
Other projects in the area likely compounded the issue at S.W. 21st and Wanamaker, he said. Since May, crews have worked on S.W. Wanamaker from 4th to 10th Streets on a project that should be done in December. Further to the west, a Shawnee County project has seen much of S.W. Urish Road torn up.
“We hear a lot of complaints about bad roads, and in the same sentence we’ll hear that we’re doing too many projects,” he said.
Campbell at Midwest Float understood that sentiment. Projects like the one by his store are necessary, but he said he believed the delay would have been avoided with better oversight.
“I think they’ve really overstretched themselves with the number of projects,” he said. “It’s like they’re just trying to get things done.”
Contact reporter Luke Ranker at (785) 295-1270 or @lrankerNEWS on Twitter. Like him on Facebook at facebook.com/lukeranker.