A major project to revitalize the Times Square area is set to begin some time later this year and business owners in that area want answers about the project. The merchants met with Town Manager Roger Hernstadt this week armed with a lot of questions but left feeling they are still in the dark about the project.
The redesign of Times Square is extensive, detailed and will totally transform an area that is looking old and worn, especially with beautification going on in several other locations close by; Bayside Park, the foot-of-the-bridge project and the Margaritaville Resort. Drainage is poor in spots leaving puddles in between restaurants, the pavers are old and unattractive, there’s a big dumpster in the middle of the square, which they try to hide with a fence and paintings, and nearly every restaurant umbrella is ground zero for daily bird droppings.
The new Times Square will, among other things, have a modern drainage system, a small covered stage, new pavers with a soft feel for bare feet, and each restaurant will have new awnings so they can ditch the umbrellas.
Town Manager Roger Hernstadt started the meeting by saying he could not provide specific details regarding dates or plans or how those plans might affect the businesses in Times Square. Pete’s Time Out owner John Lalo said, “I’m astonished at how far along the planning is and the lack of detailed answers to our legitimate questions. At the 30% design phase I voiced my opinion on the roof covering over our outdoor tables and was told that we would have input before the plan was finalized. The design is currently at 90%, that never happened. I strongly want more one-on-one contact with the project planners and construction company on what will directly affect Pete’s Time Out.”
The biggest fear for business owners is that the construction will start and there is no plan to help the businesses navigate the construction so customers know they are still open and can get to their locations. There will be extensive digging to repair and upgrade the underground drainage system. Part of the reason Hernstadt cannot give the business owners a clear answer is that FDOT is responsible for the underground work so they will have a say in the timetable and when the project begins. He said he’ll have more solid answers once a contractor is hired.
One thing everyone agreed on was that hiring the right contractor for the project is the most important decision that needs to be made. And that contractor needs to communicate with the business owners. La Ola owner Thomas Houghton said, “Communication is the key. We need specific details about what will directly affect our business. I need details and solid assessments on the start date, specific plans and when will construction be at my establishment.”
This project is expected to take 8 months. There was a debate over whether it should be done in two four-month segments but it appears everyone is now leaning toward getting it done in one shot once it begins.
The general timeline given was:
Permitting — Now through March
Project bidding — April
Evaluating bids and hiring a contractor — April through July
Project start — Early August
The general consensus from the business owners was that there is no way construction will begin in August.
Councilman Jim Atterholt, who also attended, commented that the meeting between the town and the business owners was very candid and frank. “The town can do a better job communicating but in fairness, some of the critical details and timelines will still be up in the air until the selection of a contractor for the project is complete. This project has the potential to be a spectacular improvement for Times Square and contributes greatly to the overall Island Renaissance. We just need to be sure to execute it in a way that minimizes business interruption and hardship for those employees of the businesses impacted. Everyone involved is hopeful that the renovation of Times Square can be completed before the opening of Margaritaville in August of 2023.”
Former Mayor Anita Cereceda, who owns two businesses in Times Square, was appointed as the liaison between the merchants and the town. She told Beach Talk Radio News that this is a very important project for the businesses in Times Square, the town and visitors. “We are hopeful that efforts to coordinate and communicate our concerns with the contractor and town staff will be fruitful. We appreciated Councilman Atterholt, Town Manager Roger Hernstadt and Public Works director Chelsea O’Reilly taking their time to help clarify some issues and for being open to regular communications as the project progresses.”
Cereceda was on the council when the $10 million was approved for the big three projects: Times Square, Bayside Park and Bay Oaks. She also says it’s important that the Times Square project be completed with the opening of Margaritaville.
The cost of the project is estimated at $3.5 million.
Thank you to Steve Duello for covering this event for Beach Talk Radio.