Things were tense in the second floor conference room of the Fountain Square Theatre Building on Thursday night as a meeting of the neighborhood merchants' association came to order.
Business owners packed the room to hear an update on the Cultural Trail and an explanation for months of business-deadening construction delays.
"Basically, from the interstate down to Prospect, we've not been able to move forward because we keep finding things buried in the ground," said Mark Zwoyer, senior project manager for RW Armstrong.
"Most recently it has become apparent that we have to remove portions of perhaps 500 railroad ties that are underneath the trolley tracks...the magnitude of the removal has flagged us to the issue that we have to get [chemical] testing done on these ties."
Zwoyer reiterated a timetable offered by the city to NUVO for an article on this issue in Wednesday's paper. He said despite the new challenge of getting railroad ties tested for certain chemicals, and the potential need to dispose of those ties in the proper ways, the portion of the Cultural Trail that connects downtown Indianapolis to Fountain Square, will still be completed by the first of the year.
Lawrence Jones, deputy director of the Department of Public Works and Ed Hunt, general manager of Hunt Paving, also were present. Together, the project representative fielded questions from Fountain Square merchants for over an hour.
Fountain Square Merchants Association President Craig Von Deylen asked why they had been initially told that the Fountain Square section of the project would be completed by July. Zwoyer denied that claim, and Von Deylen passed out the e-mail evidence.
The answer to many questions amounted to some form of "We really don't know that at this point."
According to Von Deylen, the merchant group's common purpose is to support locally owned stores, restaurants and venues. They don't want to continue to fight contractors and city officials; they just want to get back to their lives without seeing any more businesses fail. [Three have succumbed to negative cash flow since the destruction phase of construction began in March.]
Ed Rudisell, owner of Siam Square Thai Cuisine said, "We're more than just business owners, we're trying to maintain a neighborhood...if this [lack of movement in completing the construction] takes much longer, it's going to be a trail to nothing."
The meeting closed with a plea (and a seeming agreement) for better communication between the merchants and the contractors and city officials, in terms of the schedule of construction, written updates of exactly what's going on and the hope to move construction along as quickly and safely as possible.
In the mean time, merchants hope more people will brave the chaos of construction to support the neighborhood's economy until the city fulfills its Cultural Trail promise.