KNOXVILLE (WATE) – The construction project along Cumberland Avenue is nearing completion. Construction crews are spending the week paving along 17th and 18th streets, as phase two of the project gets closer to ending.
“They’ve come along way,” Sterchi Morton Jr., with University Liquors, said.
The city’s 28 month, $17 million redevelopment project is on track to be completed on schedule by August 2017.
“It would be ideal if they could finish on time in August right before football season, which is the busiest time for anybody up here,” Sterchi said. “So we’re fingers crossed, excited and fired up.”
Merchants along Cumberland Avenue are eager to see the finished product.
“This is fantastic,” Stephanie Cunningham, with Sunspot, said. “We’ve been waiting for this for two years. The city’s been great. They’ve worked with us. They let us know what was going on, but we’ll be glad to have the kids back, glad to have the open streets and more business.”
Knoxville Deputy Redevelopment Director Anne Wallace said the construction is transforming the strip people once knew.
“It’s really a holistic approach to what we think of Cumberland Avenue,” Wallace said. “Instead of it being a cut through street, it’s now going to be a destination.”
The project came with a price, with business owners reporting a dip in customer traffic.
“I think construction has scared some people away,” Sterchi said. “If they’re going to and from downtown, many have gone a different way. We are worried that we won’t get some of them back but we think in the long-term it will be good.”
Many merchants said they have seen a decline in business.
“We’ve been down about 15-25 percent over where we were at this time last year, but the community’s been very nice. They’ve been supporting us, so we’re just looking forward to getting everybody back,” Cunningham said.
Though the past two years have been tough on business, owners said they are optimistic for the future, and project organizers said the new and improved Cumberland Avenue will only invite more business and stability to the area.
“We’ve had great support from our community, from the merchants, but seeing those merchants be able to take a deep breath and know that it’s passed them, they’re able to move forward and know the next 20 years on Cumberland Avenue looks great, because we’ve made this significant investment,” Wallace said.