Courtesy Can Cushion Some Woes

January 7, 2005
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Cranes in the sky may be an image that makes a mayor smile, but business owners have an equal and opposite reaction when the footings of such cranes bring business to a halt. The decade of growth and new building in the core city area is not without its casualties, and some fear further losses as construction plans are made for a new hotel.

One recent example is a 30 percent loss in business for Elliott’s News on

Ottawa Avenue
as the city reconstructed
Louis Street
— a two-year project on one of the city’s shortest streets. An older and far worse example is the reconfiguration of Monroe Mall into
Monroe Center Street
, which buried the Texas Café, an award-winning restaurant.

State Rep. Michael Sak, D-Grand Rapids, has been investigating varied proposals for legislation to offer some type of financial relief to those whose business is impacted by state or local projects. Sak is reviewing a number of possibilities, including no-interest loans or tax credits for the duration of the project’s impact on business. Either or both options would not have been enough to assist the Texas Café in its endurance of the MonroeCenter project. Neither customers nor the business owner were able to even walk to the front door, though payments on the storefront lease and other business costs continued.

Those costs and business agreements are outside the scope of government interference. Even short-term loans become an added cost burden for a small business, payments for projects about which the business owner has absolutely no say.

What must be emphasized is common courtesy, a trait not usually exhibited by state or local bureaucrats. Financial incentives for an early finish on major construction projects certainly had a positive impact on the duration of the S-Curve construction, M-6 and other public/private projects. City commissioners should seek such as policy.

Other examples exist in the public works projects that impacted a multitude of businesses along

Leonard Street
and in the
Plymouth Avenue/Michigan Street
project. It was former Mayor John Logie’s mandate to city staff to “under promise and over perform” on such projects, particularly after
Leonard Street
business owners had been assured several times the project would finish July 4. It continued for several months after and became known as the “Nightmare on Leonard.”

Logie also pushed staff to knock on the doors of private property owners to arrange alleyway access agreements to affected businesses in the

Michigan Street
project, and to provide business signs along the route giving customers directions for access. Every business owner had a knock on the door and specific information on the what, when and where and duration of the project. Logie has said such an aggressive “pro-business” posture helped those businesses stay open.

Some business owners may want, and benefit from, tax credits or short-term loans, but the action with greatest impact is simple, common courtesy and very specific communication from the government entity — the type of thing one learns in kindergarten. In fact, failure to so ought to be law with penalty ascribed.    

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