Fat Cat restaurant owner Neil Kiley has had his hands full since the $1.6-billion Quincy Center redevelopment began on the other side of Chestnut Street.
In late June, the street his restaurant is on was suddenly closed to cars, not to open again for six to eight weeks. Days later, a water main break shut down his restaurant for hours.
Exposed piping has heated the water coming into the building, breaking glassware coming out of the wash; and customers have had to sidestep construction just to make it into the front door.
“I would love to say I haven’t seen any effects whatsoever,” Kiley said. “It’s not major. It hasn’t majorly impacted [my business] by any stretch, but I’ve definitely seen a drop in numbers from previous years, and specific time frames when we’re normally busy, it’s not as crazy as it normally is.”
A month into the redevelopment of the new Quincy Center, businesses are dealing with the impacts of change. And while most are optimistic things will get better, problems point out some things need improvement.
For many, the issue has been communication.
Councilor-At-Large Doug Gutro said many businesses alongside ‘Merchant’s Row’ construction - the first step of the redevelopment enclosed between Chestnut Street, Cottage Ave, and Hancock Street - weren’t notified about when the Chestnut Street street closing would occur or how long it would last.
“When the ground breaking took place [on June 24, Chestnut] street was closed, and I was perplexed about why that was,” Gutro said.
Gutro said a street closing had not been mentioned in any pre-construction meetings, and business around the area started calling the councilor to find out about the duration.
Weeks later, Gutro learned from a media source that the closing would last until October.
“It seems notification to some slipped through the cracks on an important road closure,” Gutro said. “When your business depends, when the financial wellbeing of your business depends on access and egress on a daily basis, you want at least the information to know that this is short lived.”
Though officials in the Mayor’s office promise that notification detailing the road closure went out, Gutro said he never saw it. Any notification that was released only showed a general timeline, and did not specify business impacts, Gutro said.
“With any construction project, certainly one of this magnitude that includes a whole city, there will be bumps in the road,” Gutro said. “Hopefully you plan and they aren’t around the communication aspect. Hopefully it’s a lesson learned going forward.”
According to city officials, any problems have been exaggerated.
“I have been assured all businesses that surround 1400 Hancock on both Chestnut and Cottage were visited in person regarding the construction impact and disruption related to Merchants Row,” read an email sent to Gutro from Mayor’s Chief of Staff Jim Fatseas.
Christopher Walker, spokesman for Mayor Thomas Koch, also said communication has been great - Suffolk Construction went door to door twice to notify neighbors, monthly construction meetings are ongoing with nearby tenants, and notifications are sent biweekly through an email list, he said.
“Abutters were informed. If there were a small number that somehow weren’t, we take that in stride,” Walker said. “We’re just getting started and will continue to make improvements.”
Walker also said that anyone with questions is welcome to walk into Suffolk’s on-street office at 1400 Hancock Street with questions, or call the city during business hours.
“We’ve been working hand in hand with the businesses in that area and the response has been positive so far,” Walker said. “There have been some issues but we’re working through those … we feel we’re handling those issues in a very proactive manner.”
Mark Tully, owner of nearby bar Tully’s, supported the claim. In addition to in-person visits, Tully has been invited to the construction meetings.
Tully is so informed that he half expects some service interruptions, and has been told that Cottage Street might be closed next.
“They are trying to be pretty amendable,” Tully said. “From where I’m standing, they have tried to be. I haven’t heard anything that was a surprise to me.”
Even for those who didn’t know of the road closure, such as architect Jim Edwards, the end goal will make any short-term impacts worthwhile.
“Our [Chestnut Street] office is not impacted too much except for the shaking of the building by construction activities now and then,” Edwards said. “…The whole Downtown rejuvenation is something to look forward to. What is currently occurring is a great initial step forward.”
Even Kiley, who lamented construction meetings that fall during business hours, and who said in-person visits have never caught him at the restaurant, is still optimistic of the process as construction moves on.
“To me, there is only so much they can do. Construction process is such, especially one of this magnitude, is such an undertaking, sometimes the little guy gets forgotten in the bigger picture,” Kiley said. “Do I think they could make a better effort? I’m sure they could, but there’s realistically nothing I can do ... that’s going to change anything as far as construction goes, so I just have to bite the bullet and deal with it.”