Retailers along South 76th Street are bracing for slow sales as traffic will be narrowed to one lane in each direction when the congested road is reconstructed this summer.
The $5.5 million reconstruction of 76th Street, also known as Highway U, will be paid for jointly by Milwaukee County, the Village of Greendale and the City of Greenfield.
The project will extend from Grange Avenue on the south to 1,000 feet north of Coldspring Road, and along Layton Avenue to the bridge over Forest Home Avenue.
Traffic will be reduced to one lane going each way during the reconstruction and, according to county and municipal officials, the contract with the construction company that submits the winning bid will require project completion before the holiday shopping season kicks off at Thanksgiving.
The reconstructed street will be easier to navigate — and after a second phase of construction in 2004, it also will be more attractive, transportation officials say.
According to Fred Abadi, director of the county’s Transportation Division, traffic navigation will be improved with upgrades in the pavement and signage, but subtle improvements will also be made to the design of 76th Street.
"People will see some improvement in traffic operations because we are extending many of the left-turn lanes," Abadi said.
A second phase of construction will beautify the median strip, according to Abadi.
"In the second phase, we will do the landscaping, decorative street lighting and stamped concrete," Abadi said, describing stamped concrete as concrete colored and stamped to resemble brick.
The brick-like surface will be applied to the two feet just inside the median.
"It looks nice – and when you come in winter and store snow over that, it does not damage the landscaping," Abadi said. "You wind up saving that first two or three feet of grass."
In the meantime, maintaining a decent flow of shoppers amid the dust and orange barrels will be a challenge this summer, according to affected business people.
"We are working on finalizing some plans," said Bud Schneider, manager of Southridge Mall. "I met with our marketing director. We are going to get together with our department stores by mid-April and decide on some strategies."
The owner of one business located in the eye of the hurricane — Cat Morrow of Robert F. Haack Diamonds — plans to take advantage of the construction dust to make some improvements of her building at the corner of Layton Avenue and 76th Street.
Morrow plans to acquire 4,400 square feet of property from a Midas Muffler location next to her location. The property will be paved for additional parking.
"We will do some remodeling inside, and we are going to be upgrading our property on the outside at the same time," Morrow said. "There will be new signage, a new retaining wall, new lighting and landscaping."
While Morrow said some sales during the construction process could still be successful, she fears overall sales volumes will decline during the project. Morrow indicated her business is less dependent on the holiday shopping season than some others in the 76th Street corridor are.
"We are the type of jeweler that does a big bridal business," Morrow said. "We are pretty steady all year round. In May, we have a customer appreciation day, and in August, an annual birthday sale. I expect to hold these events as we normally would."
However, Morrow still has concerns.
"I think we are getting people in from our advertising, word of mouth," Morrow said. "People will still drive to find what they want, but if word gets around that the area is congested, that might be a deterrent."
Once the dust settles, Morrow said, the changes will be positive for businesses in the corridor.
"What they are trying to do to revitalize the area – the street renovation, plus what the city is going to do with the lighting and the median strips – will in the long term be excellent for business. Hopefully it will attract an anchor tenant to the Southridge Mall, which we desperately need."
Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker shares Morrow’s optimism about conditions in the 76th Street corridor following construction.
"It is as much an economic development issue as a transportation issue," Walker said. "We want to send a message that new things are happening. It is not just for the mall — it is for all the properties all the way north to Greenfield."
The cost of the first phase of the project, which includes reconstruction of 2.16 miles of roadway, will be $3.1 million, according to Abadi. Of that, Milwaukee County will foot the bill for $2.8 million, the City of Greenfield will cover $185,000 and the Village of Greenfield will pay $60,000.
Abadi said the tab for the second phase would come to $2.4 million. The county will pay for $300,000 of the work, the City of Greenfield will pay $1.5 million and the Village of Greendale will pay $550,000.
April 4, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee