LANCASTER, Wis. — Downtown Lancaster business owners are enjoying the sight of freshly paved sidewalks and streets outside their windows following the completion of the initial phases of a highway reconstruction project.
Vehicles and pedestrian access has been restored in the square surrounding the Grant County Courthouse and immediately north on Madison Street.
“It looks wonderful,” said Karla Fishnick, owner of Karla’s Kitchen at 103 N. Madison St. “It’s been almost 30 years since it’s been done. It needed to be done.”
The $6.1 million project — which kicked off in April and is due for completion by November — includes repaving U.S. 61 through Lancaster from West Cherry Street to City Limits Street along with the streets surrounding the courthouse.
Some businesses saw a decline in customers when square access was restricted during the initial phases of the project.
“It was kind of tough for us,” said Jorge Lopez, owner of Fiesta Cancun at 150 S. Madison St.
The restaurant experienced a customer decline — sometimes, to half of the normal volume — leading to days when Lopez operated at a loss.
“Now, it has turned back to normal,” he said. “We survived. We’re still here. We’re not going anywhere.”
Many business owners said the impact was less than they anticipated because construction proceeded quickly.
Marty Busch, owner of Busch Music at 126 S. Madison St., said streetside access to his building was restricted for just a handful of days. He arranged piano deliveries — an admittedly infrequent event — to avoid those times.
Project manager Jay Adams, of Team Engineering in Wauzeka, said the Lancaster project proceeded as smoothly as any other urban reconstruction project with which he has been involved.
“Of the biggest challenges, it’s probably providing pedestrian access to all the businesses,” he said.
Heather Bontreger, the executive director of Lancaster Area Chamber of Commerce, oversaw the installation of at least 30 wayfinding signs to direct shoppers to downtown parking locations and backdoor building entrances.
Her group also organized promotions aimed at boosting downtown commerce and provided regular construction updates to businesses and the public.
“The biggest thing that I’ve learned is communication — the more, the better,” Bontreger said. “That was our goal so that no one was blindsided, so they could plan ahead and prepare for what was to come each week.”
Brian Clauer, the owner of Angler’s Nook Bait & Tackle at 144 S. Madison St., said he now faces the challenge of communicating to customers that construction around the square has concluded.
“I think every three or four days I get a phone call,” Clauer said. “If someone is coming from a ways away, they hear about (construction) and they’re not sure if they can make it in yet. I think it will take a while before we get over that completely.”
During the third and final phase of the project, crews will continue north as they repave Madison Street and perform water and sanitary sewer work block by block.
Those affected include dozens of homeowners and four businesses.
“They are working diligently,” said Molly Slater, the branch manager of Marine Credit Union at 708 N. Madison St. “It’s a crapshoot as to how you can get to us. Sometimes you have come from the north and sometimes from Birch Street (from the south).