(Update: One day after the publication of this article, the city of Edmond announced that Main Street will reopen Monday, Aug. 7, and remain open throughout the remainder of this year. The article below remains in its original form.)
In preparation for constructing a $44 million city center complex and parking garage, Edmond closed portions of downtown streets, alleyways and parking areas on July 25. While some believe the massive 20-month project could catalyze future growth downtown, area business owners are concerned that decreased public access throughout the construction timeline will affect their bottom lines for only a small net increase in parking spaces when the project is complete.
Stephanie Carel, the executive director of the Downtown Edmond Business Association, said she has received numerous complaints in the last week about the new access and parking limitations. Taken as a whole, she said small businesses have “a huge tax impact for Edmond” that will decline with the current restrictions.
“They’re all having the same issues,” Carel said. “You need to be helping those business owners any way that you can, and I don’t feel like the communication has been there for that.”
Jake Hledik, the general manager of Weathers TV and Appliance at the intersection of Broadway and Main Street, said his store has already felt an impact from the closures.
“Just from the road closures with the alleyways, we’ve already seen a loss of sales,” Hledik said. “You might say, ‘OK, it’s $10,000 a month, but if you add that up over the course of two years, that’s a quarter of a million dollars.”
Jill Castilla, president and CEO of Citizens Bank of Edmond addressed her concerns in a letter sent Friday to Mayor Darrell Davis and other members of the City Council requesting better communication with business owners and shorter periods for street closures.
“Citizens (Bank) believes there are options available, such as temporary closing of streets only when necessary for specific construction-related efforts,” Castilla wrote. “That will help alleviate the strain and potential negative impact this extended project will have on the downtown community.”
In an interview, Castilla said stakeholders in downtown have worked hard to make the area a beacon for activity, but she fears long-term road closures could lead Edmondites to avoid the area.
“We were just talking about how much momentum we have in downtown Edmond and how it’s been a collective effort. It hasn’t been any one person. It has been the investment of developers, small business owners and property owners,” Castilla said. “This is really a speed bump for us and could be a devastating speed bump for some small businesses.”
Castilla said she has been informed by city leadership that the monthly Heard on Hurd street festival — which had its largest turnout ever last month — will not be affected by the closures, but she said safety could be a concern with fewer access points downtown.
“They didn’t ask if they would have an impact,” Castilla said of project leaders. “We’re paying for the security and we have the liability associated with a lot of these different changes, safety for patrons attending Heard on Hurd, so it likely will be something that we’ll have to consider suspending.”
Castilla said that although this month’s Heard on Hurd is scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 19, organizers may need to consider canceling the monthly street festival throughout the construction period if Main Street remains closed.
Bill Begley, the city’s marketing and public relations manager, said alleyway and water line construction in downtown is nearing completion.
“We recognize and empathize with our downtown community that construction is causing disruption,” Begley said in a statement. “The amount of private and public investment occurring in downtown Edmond is truly amazing. Private development construction, both non-city and city utilities work, as well as the start of the city center complex — all in the downtown area — have combined to cause several impacts to streets and available parking.”
Begley said the city will be communicating closely with the downtown community as the city center complex project progresses. He said 1st Street “will reopen Thursday afternoon” and pavement work in the alley east of Broadway between Campbell and Hurd “will be done soon.”
“We know that communication is important and have reached out through a variety of channels to connect with our downtown neighbors. In addition, we will be releasing a weekly public and private development update,” Begley said. “That weekly report will provide updates on public and private construction projects, road/lane closures, alternative routes and other information that is of importance to our downtown community. This weekly update that will be available on edmondok.gov, shared directly via email with any interested party and posted on the City’s social media channels. Anyone interested in getting the email notifications can sign up [here].”
Construction of the city center complex is estimated to be completed by March 2025. The Edmond City Council approved a trio of loans earlier this year amounting to $81.1 million to be paid in 15 years or less for the city center complex and a joint YMCA and library project located far away from downtown near East 15th Street and Interstate 35.
The YMCA is planning to reimburse the city for $11.8 million on that project, which is also estimated to be completed in spring 2025.
New parking garage design features 134 fewer spaces
Fences currently surround the construction site for the slated complex, which will include a new 59,000-square-foot city hall, municipal court and parking garage along East Main Street.
The two-story city hall will be constructed on the site of the current Downtown Community Center, while the three-story parking garage with 216 free public parking spaces will be built on the site of the current Planning and Public Works Building.
Demolition of those two buildings is set to begin Monday, Aug. 7. The municipal court is set to be constructed east of the parking garage, along East Main Street at its intersection with South Boulevard.
The city center complex saw a significant design change in December that increased the cost of the project from an estimated $32.6 million to $44 million. The original concept involved a three-story, 65,000-square-foot building that was proposed to house city hall, the council chambers and the court.
Now, the city hall design is a two-story building, with offices for planning, engineering and code services on the first floor. The mayor’s office along with offices for the Edmond City Council, city manager, city attorney, risk management, city clerk, marketing, and urban forestry offices are planned to be on the second floor.
Originally, the new parking garage had been planned as five stories with 350 parking stalls. Now, owing to significant cost increases, the building is slated to be three stories with only 216 parking stalls, a 38 percent decrease in capacity that — coupled with other parts of the project — has left some downtown leaders questioning the net area impact for parking.
To make way for the city center complex, 135 public parking spaces are going to be removed. Additionally, city officials have discussed selling some nearby city-owned parcels. Depending on how those properties are redeveloped, the city could lose an additional 72 parking spaces downtown and net just nine public parking spaces despite building the $10 million parking garage.
Other downtown Edmond parking changes are coming, too.
In her letter to the city Friday, Castilla noted that the city’s lease of a Citizens Bank parking lot ends Oct. 31, meaning another 57 parking spots will be unavailable to the public in three months. The bank has leased that parking lot to the city for $1 a year for the past 28 years, Castilla said.
“Citizens’ provided notice to the city last October,” Castilla said. “We’re going to privatize that just knowing some of the changes that were going to be happening, and we wanted to make sure that we have space for our customers and our team members.”
As the city center complex project has developed, the city also scrapped plans to close Littler Avenue between First Street and Main Street for a green space. But now leaders are considering a “Main Street Square” idea proposed by the Urban Land Institute as a walkable focal point for pedestrians to orient themselves in and around town.
Barry Rice, an Edmond attorney and downtown property owner, said in a statement Tuesday that extended closures in downtown could serve as a “precursor” to closing Main Street.
“We strongly object to the amount of street and alley closures. There is no need to inconvenience the public when the city can use its own land for construction materials. Temporary street closures can be done. It’s a huge inconvenience for all (of) downtown. It’s hard to understand why the city doesn’t see the problems for the merchants downtown,” Rice stated. “This could be the precursor to a permanent closing of streets as previously proposed. There is a solution if the administration would listen.”
‘I wish the city had that same mentality’
Robert Black, secretary of the Downtown Edmond Business Association and an owner of four different downtown businesses, including Cafe Evoke and Twisted Tree Baking Company, said his family’s businesses have felt the impact related to the decreased parking. Access for deliveries is an even bigger problem, he said.
Construction started on First Street and the alleyway behind Cafe Evoke prior to the city’s LibertyFest celebrations on the Fourth of July, Black said. However, after the fencing went up for the city center complex, Black said, construction has halted behind his coffee shop, impeding semitrailers from delivering products to his store.
“I can’t tell you how many deliveries that I’ve had attempted by Ben E. Keith or US Foods or whoever the case may be. I’m calling my rep going, ‘Where’s my truck? I’m out of milk,'” Black said. “‘Well, we tried to deliver you and we couldn’t deliver in the rear and we couldn’t find any spot to set our truck, so we’re not going to deliver to you today.'”
Black said the inability for trucks to deliver due to the construction has forced him to purchase items at retail price and has disrupted his customers’ experiences.
“If you’re a small business like me, that can’t stop you. (…) I don’t close my business, I get my ass in my truck and I go to Sam’s or I go to Costco, because that’s what it takes to keep the doors open,” Black said. “We can complain about it, and we can be upset about it, but at the end of the day, it’s a problem. We just have to go solve it. I wish the city had that same mentality.”
Black said he believes the Edmond already has a parking problem downtown, despite the city’s 2019 downtown parking study that said otherwise.
“It feels a little bit tone deaf when I talk to the city about how this is impacting my business, and they cite some study that was done three years ago as to why my perception of parking is wrong,” Black said. “Please, come join me for a cup of coffee on a Saturday morning at 10 o’clock and observe what I observe and then tell me there is no problem.”
While Black criticized the city’s ability to find solutions to construction problems, he did commend city officials for their presence and communication at DEBA meetings.
“The city of Edmond does a lot of things really good,” Black said. “So, it’s fair to be frustrated when they drop the ball and it’s fair for me to share those concerns and express those frustrations, but I’d be remiss to not say we have a great team at the city of Edmond.”
Begley said the city recognizes the “continued impacts” facing downtown Edmond businesses.
“Our effort is to work to minimize disruption while downtown construction progresses,” he said. “We recognize the concerns about the construction impacts of these current and future private and public projects in the downtown area and will continue to work to keep downtown and the citywide community informed and updated.”
(Clarification: This article was updated at 12:13 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 2, to correct a word in a quote from Castilla and add additional information about the Heard on Hurd festival.)