Two years ago, talk of fixing up a deteriorating stretch of inner West Street was seen by many as just that. Talk.
Those skeptics should doubt no more. Construction begins today on a key element of the revitalization: a $7.9 million traffic circle at the intersection of West Street and Taylor Avenue in Annapolis.
While various street closures will be an irritant for motorists until the year 2000, when the circle is expected to be completed, the result should be a picturesque gateway into the historic city. More importantly, it will be the beginning of the city's commitment to bring economic life back to the seven-block corridor from Taylor Avenue to Church Circle.
"I am really happy to see it happening," said Geoffry Bridges, vice president of legislative affairs for the Greater Annapolis Chamber of Commerce, which has actively supported the project for years.
"It's going to make such a big difference to what happens to West Street development," said Bridges, who also sat on the circle design committee. "It's not going to happen quickly, it's going to take many years. But as the business group in town, we want to make sure [the project] stays on track."
The complex project will require two major phases of construction to place utilities underground, replace old water and sewer lines and rebrick sidewalks. The city will eventually pump another $8 million into renovating the rest of the street.
To complete the first portion of the circle, a $3.5 million contract was awarded to Cherry Hill Construction Inc. of Jessup, which has been involved in projects along Interstate 97, the Baltimore Beltway, the Capital Beltway and U.S. 50. The company is also involved in parking lot and streetscape work around the Ravens stadium in Baltimore.
As portions of West Street are closed, motorists heading into the city will be detoured to Brown Street, Spa Road and then back to West Street. Those heading to Parole will take the reverse route.
City officials predict the headaches will be worth it.
"This Gateway Circle Project is intended to provide the stimulus for economic redevelopment and community revitalization along the West Street corridor, and resolve many traffic movement problems," Mayor Dean L. Johnson said.
Today's groundbreaking follows 12 years of promises about revitalizing West Street. During that time, new malls opened on the edge of town and the economy slumped, and the once-thriving residential and commercial strip gave way to abandoned stores, empty lots and "For Sale" signs.
In the past few years, city officials began recognizing the location as the last parcel of land that could be developed in the city. They view it as the city's last hope to create new tax revenue and attract businesses away from nearby Parole.
The previous city council spent months arguing about how much the project should cost. In 1996, when an urban design firm estimated the project would cost about $17.6 million, the council said $12 million seemed more realistic.
Council members chose a mid-size traffic circle at a cost of $4.9 million that didn't include renovating West Washington and Clay streets or other side streets connecting to West Street. Designers, city officials and residents wrangled for months over what the circle should look like.
By that time, the price of the circle had risen to $5.6 million.
The project hit another snag last May when the council had to decide between funding West Street projects or the Stanton Community Center in a tight budget year. They chose to renovate the Stanton Center, a dilapidated activities building for children in the heart of the Clay Street community.
Now, after all the battles and concerns, renovating West Street will cost about $16 million. Johnson requested another $2.3 million for the circle part of the project because of increased costs for construction and placing overhead wires underground, adding to the latest increase.
Funding will come from a combination of city bonds, operating expenses and a state grant.
The higher price tag on the project didn't please all of the officials involved.
"We were committed to what we had believed to be the price," said Alderman Louise Hammond, a Ward 1 Democrat who was one of three re-elected in November.
"We said, 'Go ahead, get the project under way,' " Hammond said. "Then we discovered the estimates were done incorrectly, and some weren't even completed. So now we're left with a much higher price tag. That concerns me."
Pub Date: 5/03/98