One business owner along Market Street is afraid backlash could kill the city’s plans to give the thoroughfare a new look and better traffic flow.
Sean Westmoreland, who owns long-established Dixie Glass, said he realizes the initial plans — which include two traffic roundabouts, narrowing the street to two lanes in spots, and moving parking spaces — need tweaking. But he said Monday he’s concerned progress could stop altogether, which would be bad for the city.
The plan offers a more boutique-friendly look for the area, something Westmoreland said might fit better in Ocean Springs. But he said there are aspects of the project that need to be done regardless — like resurfacing the buckling concrete slabs — and he hopes the energy will stay positive for revamping the plans and moving forward.
Westmoreland said about half of the businesses oppose some part of the changes. A switch to parallel parking in front of businesses and bike lanes are two changes getting a lot of opposition, he said. The roundabouts and one-way portions, not as much.
But white-and-red signs have popped up along Market Street and in neighborhoods saying “SAVE Market Street 4 lanes.”
City Manager Joe Huffman, engineers and city leaders have held workshops with business owners and are hammering out changes to the design.
“The first design may have been an overreach by the city,” Westmoreland said. “But they are working on another design. We need to keep the energy positive. Some people are so angry they’re talking about voting out the city council. This is the most active city council we’ve had in years. They have done a lot of needed projects.”
The most urgent need is to repair Market Street’s surface, he said. The buckling is getting so bad “eventually you could motocross on it,” and patching won’t work anymore.
Business owners are concerned a narrower street will cause issues for 18-wheelers delivering goods, and cause a traffic jam when nearby Beach Elementary lets out.
Another concern is major construction disrupting business. Businesses includes a couple of strip malls, Sherwin-Williams paint showroom, Anderson’s Bakery, bank branches, churches and a number of restaurants.
The plan’s aim is to make the district more desirable for new businesses —creating more business activity and sales tax revenue — as well as attracting more residents.
Huffman, worked on a similar project in Goldsboro, N.C., before he came to Pascagoula in 2011, said , “we want to help businesses prosper. We've got a lot of empty properties along Market Street and businesses are declining over time. We'd really like to see something happen on the economic development front.”
Adding sidewalks and bike paths are safety improvements as well as aesthetic ones. Phase one would install two roundabouts — one on Ingalls Avenue and one at Polk — allowing traffic to slow rather than stop for a red light.
“Research shows us traffic will flow better,” he said. “And we hope people will slow down a little, right now its a race between stoplights.”
Stoplights are not safer than roundabouts, he said. And a study has shown 22 percent of the city’s accidents last year were on Market Street. Since 2013, improvements to Goldsboro have attracted 32 new businesses, he said. It also caused some to close.
“Everybody is concerned and we're working through those concerns — number of parking spaces, cut-throughs in the median,” he said. “Some businesses love the idea. Some are interested in us meeting their needs and worry about lost parking spaces. I don’t think any amount of data will change the minds of a few people.”
Westmoreland is hoping his fellow business owners will work with the city and help come up with a workable project, because “this is an opportunity, a project that comes around once in 30 years.”
Phase one is Ingalls to Polk. Phase two is Beach Boulevard to Parsley Avenue. Combined they would cost a little under $6 million and could be funded in part by a bond issue the city passed to improve streets, gas, water and sewer infrastructure.