Sea of wet cement makes Decatur businesses an island

Fresh concrete blocked off the 1100 block of Decatur Street today, trapping businesses owners inside and customers outside.

Curtis Casados arrived at 10 a.m. for his bartending shift at The Abbey and noticed crews from Hard Rock Construction at the corner of Gov. Nicholls Street. By 2 p.m. he was cooling his heels on a barstool perched at the edge of the front door.

“It didn’t hit me until they were about 50 feet down, ‘Oh, wait a minute, I’m gonna be stranded here and no one can come or go,’” he said as the crew made its way toward the corner of Ursulines Street.

Those crews, that for the last few weeks had been prepping to construct new sidewalks, removed narrow wooden bridges that allowed employees and customers to get in and out of businesses on the lake side of the 1100 block of Decatur Street and unexpectedly began to pour concrete.

The $800,000 project will replace all sidewalks on Decatur from the 800 block to the 1300 block, said Erin Burns, a City Hall spokeswoman.

But the surprise work Thursday left some people like Casados stranded inside of businesses and others stuck with no way to get in, with feelings somewhere in between indifferent and frustrated.

“They’ve effectively shut the entire business down for my entire shift,” Casados said. “I rely on tips. It’s already summertime and it’s already slow anyway. I know they’ve got to do it. Hopefully it won’t last but more than one day. But it has killed this day.”

Meanwhile, Rhonda Findley wasn’t able to get into her store to open it.

The co-owner of Fun Rock’n, which sells New Orleans-themed T-shirts and other kitschy gifts, said her business has suffered since the prep work began. Last Monday, the business had so few customers it banked $5.50 in sales. “Today? I can tell you right now you we’ve rung nothing.”

Turtle Bay, which often does a robust lunch business, was empty instead.

Bartender Corey Riley sold $10 of Miller Lites to a woman who balanced herself on a thin strip of concrete at the bar’s front window. It was one of the few sales he made. “Nobody’s making money. We’re just waiting on them to get done.”

A letter delivered to the businesses said work was supposed to wrap Tuesday but gave no hint about the work that began Thursday, Findley said.

“How can anybody complain about improvements? It’s the lack of communication,” she said. “It’s poor communication.”

Burns, the City Hall spokeswoman, said the contractor is supposed to give affected business and homes a heads-up about any unexpected work.

“Today, that happened the day of,” she said, adding that the Department of Public Works will work more closely with business and residents as the work continues, such as when crews return to lay bricks on top of the new concrete.

As for crews working daytime hours, those are the standard hours for the sidewalk project, and crews usually arrive at 7 a.m. Only in special instances does work happen at night when there is less foot traffic.

Trey Monaghan, operator of Molly’s At The Market, said he appreciates the French Quarter gets “special love and attention from the city.”

“Thank you to the city for giving us new sidewalks. But also, hey, can you communicate the project with us a little bit better?” he pleaded.

Meanwhile, a number of footprints leading to the front door showed up in the wet concrete in front of The Abbey.

© 2017 WWL-TV


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