A construction worker drops gravel into a trench with a backhoe as construction continues on the Van Ness Bus Rapid Transit project on Monday, April 23, 2018. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Businesses hurt by Van Ness construction get city aid, but no money

The Van Ness Improvement Project will one day lead to faster buses whisking down the avenue, ferrying thousands of riders on San Francisco’s first Bus Rapid Transit system.

That’ll be in 2020.

But to some businesses suffering a drop in customers due to project construction, that’s a long time from now.

To aid those ailing merchants, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and Office of Economic and Workforce Development have already provided at least $50,000 worth of services, the agencies told the San Francisco Examiner.

That assistance has included merchant outreach, design and print of retail directories to drum up business, poster design and printing, directional signage to point pedestrians to businesses, photography, and featuring business in OEWD’s “Shop and Dine in 49” promotional outreach materials, but not cash payments.

That investment is the second major test of The City’s Construction Mitigation Program, which was created by the late Mayor Ed Lee in response to similar complaints from Chinatown merchants affected by the creation of the Central Subway. as first reported by the Examiner. That program provided city resources to offset a drop in customers to Chinatown merchants in 2017 due to blocked off streets and noisy jackhammers, and now is spreading to another transit corridor, Van Ness Avenue.

“We’ve seen a loss of bar and restaurant business,” said Michael George, general manager of the Holiday Inn San Francisco Golden Gateway on Van Ness.

While bookings remained steady, the hotel experienced a sharp dip in foot traffic after construction started, he said. George explained that project construction also had an interesting side effect — some hotel-goers tended to dine-in and stay at their bar longer, making up for the dip in foot traffic.

Still, he said, other businesses along the corridor are not as lucky and depend far more on walk-in traffic to make up their bottom lines.

Implementation of the city’s help hasn’t always gone smoothly either.

At an October 18 meeting of SFMTA’s Van Ness Business Advisory Committee, a group of local merchants who help SFMTA keep aware of business impacts, Coldwell Banker agent Judi Basolo asked bluntly, “what happened to all the directional signs?” provided by OEWD.

Kate McCarthy, an SFMTA public outreach manager, told Basolo, “Unfortunately we have a real challenge with [signage] going up coming back down again.”

George from Holiday Inn, however, praised the signage, and told the Examiner, “for pedestrian traffic, it builds awareness of the path of travel” and helps drum up business.

At least, he said, when the signs stay up.

The $316 million Van Ness Improvement Project will replace sewer systems all along the corridor, and also create The City’s first Bus Rapid Transit system, in which the 47-Van Ness and 49-Mission will move along the street much like trains.

The project as a whole saw a one-and-a-half year delay, and the start of construction was delayed five months after work crews found decades-old schematics of the pipes underneath Van Ness Avenue to be inaccurate, as The Examiner reported in April. The problem forced workers to dig by hand around some obstacles.

That delay and other construction impacts prompted the Office of Economic and Workforce Development and SFMTA to categorize the project as a “major impact” under the Construction Mitigation Program, said OEWD spokesperson Gloria Chan.

During the Central Subway delays, The City provided mitigation assistance from OEWD, and the Mayor’s Office and Supervisor Aaron Peskin’s office secured direct funding to help gain additional parking and other amenities. When asked if further assistance on Van Ness would mirror Chinatown’s, Chan said that was a special case.

“I also want to note that for Central Subway, the project and its impact to the community were extraordinary,” Chan said. “Not only were the small businesses impacted, so was tourism and the larger community as a whole from a cultural perspective … OVERSET FOLLOWS:the project also went far beyond its intended timeline.”

The Central Subway project is expected to open in December 2019, a year past its projected opening date. The Van Ness Improvement Project’s five-month construction delay will see it open in 2020.

joe@sfexaminer.com

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