Annapolis officials and business owners are hoping that outdoor dining and activities will keep patrons coming to West Street when the latest phase of its redevelopment begins this spring.
City workers are scheduled to begin burying utility lines and improving sidewalks on the section of West Street between Calvert Street and Church Circle in April.
The street will be closed to vehicular traffic during the project, which is expected to be finished before October's boat shows, two of the city's main attractions.
The work represents the final stage of a $13 million project to improve West Street.
Although restaurant and shop owners agree the stretch needs an upgrade, they are concerned that the project could drive off potential customers. Merchants and restaurateurs have been working with city officials to minimize disruption.
"Hopefully, we can make it an easy flow and nobody notices the construction," said Connie Del Signore, president and chief executive officer of the Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Conference and Business Center.
Business owners and city officials have been meeting regularly for brainstorming sessions, something they didn't always do during the first two phases. "There's a lot more coordination," said Mike Mirion, the city's economic development director.
But the final phase of the project could affect more businesses than the first two phases. The first block of West Street is a mix of restaurants, bars, coffee shops and stores that draws customers mostly from the local population, unlike the more tourist-oriented Main Street and City Dock areas, officials said.
Many West Street business owners have been asking the city to limit construction to off-peak hours, which Mirion said the city would try to accommodate.
They would like more outdoor dining and events during the construction period in the hopes that they would attract patrons. "We have to make it fun," said Erik Evans, co-owner of ARTFX on West Street.
City officials said they would do everything they can to have outdoor activities. The city has pledged $5,000 to pay for a marketing campaign to help promote the area during construction. And contractors will have to hire workers to keep the street clean.
Mayor Ellen O. Moyer said she supports expanding outdoor dining along West Street during construction. "We don't want people to forget about the businesses there," she said.