Downtown Harlem is filled with orange barrels, caution tape, and piles of bricks and other construction materials.
Crews are working feverishly on the city's Streetscape Project, which includes tearing out old sidewalks and replacing them with brick-lined sidewalks and curbs.
The mess is worth the outcome, said Shirley Cassidy, the general manager of Buster's Pizza and Subs at 220 N. Louisville St.
"I'm happy with the job they've done, real happy," Cassidy said. "It's all a benefit for us (downtown business operators), for the town to look better. More people will come. It's a win-win situation for everybody."
Cassidy said the crews began ripping out old sidewalks in front of her restaurant May 7. They cleared the door and walkways when the restaurant reopened three days later, Cassidy said.
Even more exciting, she said, is that the steps leading into her restaurant have been replaced with an elevated sidewalk allowing for handicapped access to the pizza and sub shop.
"They have made us wheelchair accessible. We're very excited about that," she said Customers in wheelchairs were previously rolled in through a back door.
Work began on the first phase of the more than $1.4 million downtown renovation project in January after three rounds of contractor bids.
The first part of the two-phase project includes the sidewalks, light poles and benches along North Louisville from East Forrest Street over Milledgeville Road to Church Street. Landscaping and trash receptacles were trimmed from the project to save money and will be added by the city, said Jean Dove, Harlem's city manager.
Curbside parking was removed, widening the road enough to accommodate tractor trailers, and was replaced with a paved lot across from the Harlem Department of Public Safety. A second downtown lot behind the public safety building also will be paved.
The city was awarded $300,000 in state DOT Transportation Enhancement grant funds in 2002 for the first phase and $700,000 in 2006 for the second phase.
"Thankfully it's finally here," Dove said of the project that city officials have been working on for about five years.
The city accepted a more than $1.4 million bid from a Peachtree City, Ga., company in November during a third round of bids. The only bid received in the second round, more than $1.6 million, was much higher than the $560,000 expected cost. City officials opted to combine both grants to get the first phase going.
Other sources, including a Department of Agriculture grant and $250,000 in city funds, will help pay for the first phase of the project.
Funding for the second phase is not secured, but Dove said the city will likely apply for another DOT grant. The second phase will make Milledgevillle Road's design match Louisville's.
Sidewalk work has been completed from the Regions Bank north to the Harlem Library and from the intersection with Milledgeville Road south to Church Street, said John McClellan, the city engineer, who works for G. Ben Turnipseed Engineers.
"Now, they are in the heart of the project," McClellan said. He is working with Georgia Power Co. to remove or relocate power poles that are in the way.
McClellan said he met with many downtown Harlem business owners in April to explain how the construction would affect them.
"The overwhelming majority of them were excited about the project," McClellan said.
The construction crews are on schedule and McClellan said he hopes the project will be completed by late summer or early fall.
"We're hoping to see Harlem grow," Cassidy said. "It's going to be really, really beautiful."
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