Spring Garden Road construction a ‘disaster,’ say businesses

Business owners say difficulty parking and confusing sidewalk closures drive customers away

For some businesses in the Spring Garden Road area, construction has been worse than COVID.

Mani Padumati is the manager of Adda Indian Eatery, a small restaurant in the Spring Garden Place food court. He said that the construction is having a big impact on the small business.

“From the last two months, we are really, really in bad shape,” he said.

Construction on the popular shopping strip started in June, just as the third COVID-19 lockdown ended. The road closure was originally slated to end on Nov. 30, but it has been extended to late December.

Pedestrians navigate around construction barriers on Spring Garden Road.   Sarah Krymalowski

When construction is done, Spring Garden Road will have wider sidewalks for pedestrians and decorative planters. The city is also adding new transit shelters and spaces for public art, and burying overhead wires and repairing water lines.

For business owners in the area who were already struggling because of the pandemic, the construction could not have come at a worse time.

Padumati said that when business was down during the pandemic, the restaurant was able to make up some sales with takeout apps. But when construction started, the drivers for these apps could no longer find parking. This meant longer wait times for his customers and lower ratings on delivery apps. Sales right now are lower than during most of the pandemic.

His restaurant is not the only business to suffer.

Ali Alzeer has owned Mashawee Mediterranean Grill on Dresden Row for 11 years. He said during the pandemic, his business was down about 30 to 35 per cent, but during the construction it’s closer to 80 per cent.

“I could put it all together in one word: Disaster,” he said.

Kurt Bulger is the owner of Jennifer’s of Nova Scotia on Spring Garden Road. He said that he asked regional council through the business association to delay construction last June.

“I was down 75 per cent of my business last year, laid 13 people off. I now have five of them back, but there’s got to be a better time than this time,” he said.

Sue Uteck is the executive director of the Spring Garden Area Business Association. She said that while ideally the construction would have started at the beginning of the pandemic, she didn’t believe delaying it would have been beneficial.

“The restaurants are always going to be down because of COVID. They’re two years behind the ball so they can be 100 per cent packed every night and it’s still not going to make up,” she said.  “But as far as overall, very few people are complaining that their business is down.”

Spring Garden Road between South Park and Queen has been closed to cars during the construction.   Sarah Krymalowski

In response to criticism that planners had not listened to concerns from businesses, HRM spokesperson Klara Needler said in an email statement that a public engagement campaign had been conducted when the city was planning the project.

“Engagement sessions were held between 2018 and 2020 during each phase of the project — from visioning, to functional design and schematic design,” Needler said.

Needler also pointed to the $15,000 contribution the municipality made to the business association at the beginning of the construction, and $10,000 given to mitigate the impact of the recent delay.

Uteck said the business association spent the $15,000 on the “We’re digging Spring Garden” marketing campaign that encouraged Haligonians to keep shopping on the street during the construction. She said the association also offered 50 businesses in the area $1,000 worth of parking credits from the city to offer customers.

A sign showing pedestrians how to reach businesses. Some routes have been blocked off during construction.   Sarah Krymalowski

Businesses on Spring Garden Road say it isn’t enough. Padumati said that he thinks that relief similar to what businesses got during the pandemic would be more appropriate.

“There should be some kind of help for us, help from the government,” he said.

Sarah Krymalowski

Sarah Krymalowski is a journalist with The Signal. She has a bachelors degree of Arts & Science from McMaster University where she studied cognitive science and neuroscience.

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