Seminole Heights road closures and construction create a nightmare for businesses and homeowners

Businesses along part of Florida Avenue in the Seminole Heights neighborhood of Tampa received some tough news this week. The city announced that a road project, originally estimated at three weeks, would be extended for another two weeks.

Road closures and ongoing construction in the neighborhood have created a nightmare for many small businesses and homeowners.

It’s part of Tampa’s multimillion-dollar stormwater project, which will improve century-old infrastructure and alleviate flooding across the city. But construction delays have created protracted headaches for companies who said road closures were having a huge impact on their bottom line.

“We’ve survived hurricanes, serial killers in this area, pandemic and then post-pandemic, but honestly that’s probably been one of the toughest challenges for us because there’s no just no customers,” said Jason Newman, co-owner of Smoke Signals smokehouse. “It has crushed our business and all the small businesses in the area that rely on traffic on this road. Right now there is absolutely no traffic.”

Several companies said they had to make difficult decisions about staffing and hours. Health Mutt, a pet supply store and groomer, said it had to close early and reduce its workforce. A sign on the front door of Whatever Pops explains that the famous dessert shop is now closed on Wednesdays until the rest of September.

“Some days we’ve only lost 30% of sales since we started,” said Kendra Conze, owner of Health Mutt. “When you look at Florida Avenue, it looks very closed off, so even when you see the signs that say businesses are open, people don’t necessarily understand how to get to those businesses.”

Conze has created her own flyers and social media posts showing customers how to navigate the veritable maze of road closures surrounding her business, but she said it seems most customers are avoiding the area altogether.

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“People really don’t come to our store unless it’s a necessity at this point, which has reduced our sales significantly,” Conze said.

The city said it is working to improve communications with businesses affected by construction. This week, municipal employees went door-to-door with merchants. The city also asked contractor Nelson Construction to add an additional flagger to part of the site to help divert traffic and direct customers to available business parking.

“We know how hard it’s been for them. It’s not easy. It’s their livelihood and it’s how they feed their families, and we’re going to do everything we can to try. to improve that communication to verify them and determine what they need,” said Lauren Rozyla, Tampa’s media relations manager.

While businesses on Florida Avenue are eyeing two more weeks of construction, neighbors on nearby Crest Avenue have been going through construction issues since November last year.

Large construction equipment, huge concrete culverts and road debris line the road, which has been unpaved for much of the year. Neighbors often complain that they cannot navigate their street or access their driveways. Ironically, the project to reduce flooding creates a muddy river instead of the street every time it rains.

Neighbors in Crest have been told their street will be paved again from June, now the city has said paving should start by the end of the month for the section of Crest between the Hillsborough River and Highland Avenue and by the end of October for homes between Highland and Florida.

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The city said aggravating issues caused delays.

“We’ve seen supply chain issues across the country, and we haven’t been immune to that in Tampa,” Rozyla said. “There were also delays due to what was found underground that may have been missed by initial investigations because the pipes are so old.”

The city said that was the case with the Florida Avenue delay. When excavation began, crews discovered a 1960s water pipe that did not meet current depth standards. Additional work will be required to withstand Florida Avenue traffic loads.

Construction delays are beginning to impact other parts of the city that need roadwork.

Tampa Heights neighbor Richard Yarde mocked the growing openness of the road in front of his home this week.

“Swimming hole open on Ola. Admission $5,” Yarde said in a neighborhood Facebook group.

Yarde and his wife placed a pair of inner tubes in the rain-filled pit for the satirical snap.

“We just wanted to draw a little more attention to it,” Yarde said. “I don’t like to complain much, and I’ve done my due diligence by calling the city several times over the past two months. We thought we were going to have a little fun with this.”

In July, a small hole opened up in the pavement outside Yarde’s house.

“We just put a cone on it and called the town, but over time it progressed and the depth got to six feet,” Yarde said.

A block of Ola is now closed because of the opening, which runs from sidewalk to sidewalk and spans the length of a house. The opening was caused by a cracked pipe under the road. City workers set up barricades and markers around the hole, but Yarde said complaints from neighbors did not prompt the city to fix it.

“They’re just set back. They just have so many water issues and street issues that they’re dealing with right now, and they couldn’t give us a deadline of when they’d be here to take care of it. “, he added. said Yarde.

Joking aside, Yarde said he was concerned about road safety and erosion of the street, sidewalk and nearby properties.

“For me the main thing is the issue of safety because I have young children who love to go out and play. My son and I loved playing football here but we can’t do that now,” Yarde said. . “We worry every day that the sidewalk is starting to crumble here.”

Rozyla said city sewage crews plan to monitor the hole over the weekend. Deputy Infrastructure Administrator Brad Baird said the site was too wet for crews to dig.

Work on Florida Avenue is expected to be completed by September 23.

A community meeting is tentatively scheduled for 6 p.m. on September 29 in the auditorium of Hillsborough High School to give neighbors and business owners an opportunity to speak with town officials about the ongoing project.

Updates on the Seminole Heights Stormwater project can be found by clicking here.

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