GOWANUS – As reported back in March, years of disruptive construction forced Twig Terrariums to move out of 287 3rd Avenue (at Carroll Street) after seven years at the storefront. Now nearly eight months later, the construction may finally be coming to an end.
“We expect the project (Phase 1, SEK20065) to be completed within the next month,” a representative for the NYC Department of Design and Construction (DDC) told Bklyner via email last week. Phase 1 of the project was originally scheduled to be completed in Spring 2018, then got pushed back to Summer 2018, but is expected to wrap up in the coming weeks. “It got off to a late start when National Grid was late relocating a 24-inch gas main that interfered with construction. Then after work started DEP [NYC Department of Environmental Protection] expanded the scope of work and added a new underground sewer chamber,” DDC explains.
The two-phase project updates storm and waste lines in the area to decrease the amount of sewage going into the Gowanus Canal. The old combined system is being separated into independent storm and sanitary lines which will make the local system more resilient by increasing its capacity, reduce flooding in the area, and contribute to the health of the Canal.
In 2014, prior to the current project, roads in the area were dug up to move the power and gas lines in preparation for the work on the sewage lines. Phase 1, from Carroll Street to Douglass Street, began in June 2016 and is reportedly wrapping up while Phase 2 (SEK20067), running from Butler Street to State Street, “should have shovels in the ground in the spring [of 2019] and be completed by fall 2021,” according to DDC.
“The construction liaison [Jose Moreno], has been very helpful in keeping us up-to-date on stuff, but it just feels like a stretched out, milked out project,” said Joanne Manfredi, owner of Le Petit Chandelier Salon at 281 3rd Avenue (between President & Carroll Streets), when asked if conditions have changed since last speaking to Bklyner earlier this year. “It just took way longer than it should have. Meanwhile, none of the streets were ever closed so you were dealing with construction, a lot of noise pollution, and a lot of pollution in general. Yesterday [Wednesday, October 24] they were tarring and there were still trucks trying to pass through traffic. It’s been a nightmare.”
Among some of the challenges Manfredi and neighboring small business owners have endured throughout the multi-year project have been torn out sidewalks, lack of parking, traffic, noise, and electrical and water shut-offs.
“It’s been awful, especially on the corner of 3rd and Carroll. They kept reopening and digging and reopening the same spot,” Manfredi continues. “The buildings on the corner lost their electricity, lost their gas.” She adds that the workers also disrupted the Verizon lines, noting “half of the street has Fios [the western half of 3rd Avenue] and on this side we’re still totally antiquated. We have no Fios.”
Manfredi adds that the work crews also reinstalled the bus stop sign in the incorrect spot, closer to her shop rather than a few doors south [in front of 287 3rd Avenue] where it was originally located. “They put some of the signage back in the wrong places, so the bus stop is in the wrong place. It’s supposed to be further down the block,” she said frustrated.
According to DDC, the MTA is responsible for reinstalling the sign once the work is completed, however an MTA representative said it’s up to DOT (NYC Department of Transportation). A DOT representative requested the cross streets and a photo when Bklyner inquired with the agency Monday afternoon, but did not immediately provide an answer when asked who is responsible for reinstalling the signage. The DOT office is closed on Tuesday for Election Day. We will update once we receive a response.
On a brighter note, Manfredi said she saw Moreno, the DDC Project Liaison assigned to the 3rd Avenue project, in mid-October posting signs on storefronts about planned work. He informed her at the time that construction for Phase 1 would soon be over, “They say that it’s the end of their four year project. Yesterday [October 24] they repaved the streets. They’re doing some repairs on the sidewalk and they’re just sort of getting things off of their list and they’re supposed to be on their way and continuing north towards Atlantic [Avenue],” Manfredi said.
“Now supposedly this is it, but I’m not going to hold my breath because they find some reason…. We’ve had three sidewalks in the last three years. For some reason they just keep finding reasons to rip up the streets,” she said.
“The project seems to be winding down although it’s always unpredictable,” said Shannon Moran, owner of Triple Diamond Tattoo at 257 3rd Avenue (between Union & President Streets), in a follow-up conversation with Bklyner.
“Our walk-in business has absolutely suffered from the construction. How can people walk by if there is a trench in place of a sidewalk or if every corner is barricaded with construction gates and heavy machinery?” she asked in February. More recently she said her business received a negative Yelp review due to the black construction dust she is “constantly battling” inside her shop.
“The parking issue was really coming to a head in the neighborhood and really hit an all time low. There were full blocks without parking due to the construction vehicles parked there, piles of wood, steel, pipes and supplies and then the work sites themselves,” she recalls. Manfredi confirmed Moran’s claim noting, “all the construction guys are hogging up all the parking spaces.”
“Thankfully that has lifted as of right now,” Moran continued. “There have been many days when you see them laying a fresh sidewalk or a new road and you think, ‘Wow, it’s over.’ Then a week or so later they are ripping it all up again.”
“It does seem like it is ending, they have painted lines on the road and that seems reassuring,” she added optimistically.
Moran says that the city’s efforts to keep business owners apprised of upcoming work hasn’t changed since she last spoke to Bklyner. “The communication has remained the same, although they have now been taping notices on our front door with updates. I really do not appreciate that. Last week we had four different notices taped to our front door,” she said.
Both she and Manfredi say they are given a couple of days warning prior to when planned work begins. “We just have been getting an email here and there with the task they are performing that week…. For a few years it was complete radio silence, then last year they started with the email updates that only explain the task for that week,” Moran says.
When the construction first began, Moran said she tried contacting various city agencies for help but quickly became frustrated after constantly being given the run-around. “We have been shrugged off every time we have attempted,” she told Bklyner earlier this year. “At some point you give up because you have to turn your efforts and attention to keeping your business going.”
“We have never received any help, assistance or compensation from the city,” she reiterated last week. “I know Michelle [Inciarrano] from Twig was trying hard to get the severity of this situation known to the city. It just became obvious no one cared,” Moran says.
City policies are “hostile toward small businesses,” Inciarrano told Bklyner over the telephone. She and her business partner, Katy Maslow, relocated Twig Terrariums to 642 Coney Island Avenue on the border of Ditmas Park and Kensington in May. She recalls investing a lot of time and money into addressing the construction issues with city agencies and officials but ultimately “the city did not volunteer any compensation,” even after a damaged sewer drain on the corner of Carroll Street and 3rd Avenue flooded Twig’s basement following a heavy rain in May 2017.
While she misses Gowanus and her former neighbors, Inciarrano says she loves her new location and the warm welcome she received from the small business owners there. She is a member of the Cortelyou Road Merchant Association—which works to clean the streets, plant trees, and install the holiday lights—and already feels a part of the diverse community.
Following Bklyner’s article in March, Council Member Brad Lander responded acknowledging the challenges businesses faced from the “multi-year construction,” saying, “My office has spent many hours trying to lessen that impact, with multiple meetings of business owners, residents, DDC, DEP, and others. In some instances, we’ve been able to help—winning a hard-fought commitment to restore trees on Carroll Street and make other improvements, more clarity about the project timeline, abbreviated and better-noticed water shut-offs, and an agreement to consolidate equipment so we could reopen sidewalks faster. In other cases, sadly, we have not been able to win what we hoped, like restitution for lost business, and a faster overall timeline.”
“We were never told an end date,” Moran says. “No one has ever given us a timeline or an end date for this project…. It would be amazing if they were finished. To have people look down 3rd Avenue and feel that it was a welcoming street they could walk down—one without cement mixers roaring, the sound of large trucks reversing, digging, [workers] shouting, and the dust from it all.”
“I think this is their last stretch right now,” said Anne Py, the owner of Craftspring a small business that works with women artisans in Kyrgyzstan to create handmade felt ornaments. She relocated her business to 287 3rd Avenue into the former Twig Terrarium storefront in June. “I think actually today [Thursday, October 25] was the last paving that they’re planning on doing,” she added.
“We have our design studio here. We store, we ship online orders, we do wholesale,” Py explained. “Next door is a little pop-up space because this office is so big. We rent it out to artists and some brands” for temporary studios and shops.
While Craftspring sells an assortment of ornaments, masks, and other handcrafted felt items, the business is not reliant on foot traffic. “We’re not only retail. Most of our office is [our] wholesale business, so this is sort of a plus for us. We don’t have the same kind of stress as a purely retail store,” she says.
Py said she was aware of the ongoing construction work on 3rd Avenue before moving into the new location and says it has not affected her business. “There’s been work going on all the time and it’s just been a given for us. We didn’t have any expectations from the city, so it didn’t bother us. We just assumed there would be work.”
Moving into the neighborhood as the construction comes to an end proved to be a good move for Py. Craftspring’s cheerful merchandise reflects her feelings about her new location. “We love this space…. We feel like the neighborhood is really improving. We love our neighbors. I feel there’s a lot of good energy on our block. There are so many cool entrepreneurs working around here…so actually we love our spot,” she said.
Moran is also hopeful. “I think all of us have held on by a string and it would be great to see our street in good shape again and our businesses thriving in a welcoming environment,” she says. Manfredi is more cautious, “So now we wait and I hope the zoning doesn’t change in the neighborhood and real estate taxes go up and [they] start building more on 4th Avenue. That’s my fear, now that all this infrastructure is in place, they’re going to start to take these buildings out block by block.”
“I hope that this is it and that we can just move forward,” she adds.