OneRedmond and City Hall are working together to help small businesses survive during the construction

If you visit downtown Redmond, you will probably find yourself navigating your car through an obstacle course of digital reader boards, orange traffic cones, detour signs, and steel plate-covered roadways to shop at the dozens of businesses that line a busy thoroughfare in the heart of the city’s central business district.

This construction is part of the Redmond Couplet Conversion Project that encompasses a 1.5-mile stretch of Redmond Way and Cleveland Street between 160th Avenue Northeast and Avondale Way, and crosses 11 busy intersections. The project will bring a host of improvements to the area, such as improved water, sewer, and power lines; new traffic signals, lighting, and sidewalks; paving and landscape improvements; reconfigured roadway lanes; and updated street signs.

Redmond Couplet Conversion Project

Photo by Todd Matthews

Work that began along Cleveland Street last June continues today along Redmond Way, and is scheduled to be completed by the end of this year. Other projects in the immediate area include the development of Redmond’s Downtown Park, scheduled to begin this summer and be completed one year later, and a variety of mixed-use private development projects.

In the end, this area of downtown Redmond is expected to see at least three years of steady construction. It’s a long haul for business owners in the construction zone, who have had their patience tested as they survive the disturbances created by these construction projects.

On Friday, OneRedmond, a public-private partnership that promotes economic development, announced the City of Redmond is taking steps aimed to improve communication and coordination between contractors, business owners, and city staff to make it easier for visitors to navigate the area. The measures include signage encouraging drivers to use Bear Creek Parkway to detour around the construction zone; more city inspection staffers out in the field and with “boots on the ground” to deal with issues as they arise, and provide more detailed information on weekly construction activities; and City of Redmond economic development manager and downtown liaison Jill Smith has been named a single point of contact for residents and business owners to reach out to in order to address issues in a more expedited manner.

OneRedmond CEO Bart Phillips spoke with 425 Business this week to discuss the project’s impact on local businesses and whether these latest efforts will be enough to help local business owners weather the construction disruptions.

425 BUSINESS: What is the Redmond Couplet Conversion Project?

BART PHILLIPS: It is essentially taking Redmond Way and converting it to two-way traffic. It’s a very major rebuild of Redmond Way, which, of course, is both the main thoroughfare for commuters, as well as the main thoroughfare through downtown. It’s a very busy street. The reason it is referred to as a couplet is because last year there was a major reconstruction of Cleveland Street, which runs parallel (to Redmond Way). That actually made it into a Festival Street, so that it could be used in combination with the new downtown park. The reconstruction of Redmond Way does two things. It converts it back to two-way, eventually. And it is an opportunity for major utility upgrades and signalization changes.

425 BUSINESS: How is the project impacting local businesses?

PHILLIPS: It’s really impacting the businesses that are located on Redmond Way, specifically, but also, secondarily, the other businesses downtown. The reason is that, as you can imagine, they are digging up the road for utilities. It went from four lanes to one lane, back and forth. Then they are taking all the sidewalks out, so businesses were being blocked and they didn’t have any sidewalks or traffic into the parking lot. It was highly disruptive, as any construction project is. On top of that is the wonderful weather we have had for the past several months, which has delayed construction. Also, we’ve had major private sector residential and commercial development happening — two major hotels and three major residential projects all happening right there simultaneously. It’s kind of a perfect storm.

425 BUSINESS: What spurred this most recent effort to mitigate the impact of construction on local businesses?

PHILLIPS: It was apparent that with all the major construction going on, the one piece that may have been missing was adequate communication between the contractor, the City of Redmond, and the businesses. That was my observation and what I was hearing (from local business owners). It seemed to be simply a lack of communication. There would be a meeting at the front end of the week to say, “This is what’s going to happen this week.” But then with weather and multiple factors, the implementation was highly variable. Once a week was not enough.

Redmond Couplet Conversion Project

Photo by Todd Matthews

Also, there was no one person if there was an issue. For example, one business had both of their entrances 100 percent blocked by the contractor. You could appeal to the contractor, but there really was no one at the city to appeal to and to come down and fix it. That seemed to be lacking, too.

I think what we essentially did was communicate to the city the number of issues that were out there and what we thought the issues were, and then asked the city to resolve that. To their great credit, they took this all very seriously and looked at what systems were there, what wasn’t working, and then implemented a whole new way of communicating to businesses.

425 BUSINESS: What is that new way? Specifically, what is going to happen?

PHILLIPS: Jill Smith, who is in the economic development department at the city, has been assigned as the point person and business interface for the entire project. She’s been given the authority to interact with other departments. There are actually four different projects going on under way in the street, and four separate contractors, and it’s being implemented by a variety of departments within public works. Jill is now the problem solver for all these activities — to the point of being able to go to a certain department and say, “You need to call your contractor off today and fix these things.” We now have an ombudsman with teeth. That wasn’t there, but it should have been there from the get-go.

425 BUSINESS: Do you think this is going to work? Will it satisfy business owners? Will things work a little better?

PHILLIPS: I believe so. The city is committed to making this work. You have to try something to find out if it’s going to work. If it doesn’t, then we will try something else to make it work. I have great confidence in the city’s commitment. They heard us. We actually brought this issue up at a board meeting where we had the deputy mayor and two council members who both sit on the board. They know that this issue is there and there is a commitment to solve this. I think it’s going to work. If it doesn’t, then we will find out what will.