Charlotte's Elizabeth Avenue re-opens
After more than a year, one stretch of Elizabeth Avenue, east of Uptown, is now open to traffic. The city is spending $9 million on a face lift for the area, but the construction has not been a lift for businesses on the street. Elizabeth Avenue is home to an eclectic mix of half-a-dozen locally-owned restaurants and gift shops. For the last year, they've been covered in dust and accessible only by detour as construction crews widen the sidewalks and lay tracks for a street car. NOFO Cafe assistant manager Barry Clark says business took a hit the day construction started in 2007. "Immediately it dropped 30 percent and we're looking right not at about a 50 percent drop," says Clark. "Mostly at night, because of people driving around trying to find out where to park and they, I guess, don't want to deal with it. Or once they come up here they don't want to deal with it again." Yesterday, the city re-opened Elizabeth Avenue in front of CPCC between Kings Drive and Charlottetowne. But the rest of the street past NOFO and on up to Hawthorne Lane will remain torn up and largely closed to traffic until late spring. Clark says the construction has forced NOFO to stop serving dinner Sunday and Monday nights. This weekend it will shut down its next-door gift shop. A block away, Carpe Diem Restaurant co-owner Bonnie Warford says her business is down 40 percent. "This project with the street is a lot more invasive than we thought it was going to be," says Warford. "The road is actually closed right outside our front door. That's where the detour sign is." Warford says the improvements are welcome, but she's frustrated that so much of the road has been closed at once. "We were told that this portion of it would not close until the part in front of CPCC was done," says Warford. "And that's not true." Road Project Supervisor Tom Russell says bad weather and streetlight installation delayed the first phase of Elizabeth Avenue by a month. That resulted in about 45 days of overlap when the majority of the street was closed to traffic. However, Russell says the city has posted detour signs and been in touch with businesses to help them stay open: "We meet with them once a week on any issues they're having," says Russell. "Our construction guys go door to door. We send out a bi-weekly email to them that gives them a construction update as well." Russell says the entire project is on track for completion in May or June. With the recession underway, Elizabeth Avenue businesses hope they can hold out that long.