NEW ALBANY — As downtown New Albany businesses struggle with ongoing construction, a council member is asking the city to support those negatively affected by the project.
New Albany Councilman Al Knable has authored a resolution that would urge the New Albany Redevelopment Commission to use “no less than” $500,000 of the remaining American Rescue Plan (ARP) funding to issue small business grants for the businesses facing a loss in business and traffic due to the construction on Main Street. The non-binding resolution will be presented to the New Albany City Council on Thursday, Dec. 15.
The construction started in September for the $5.5 million Main Street Revitalization project, which will revamp the streetscape of Main Street in downtown New Albany. The city expects the project to be complete by late August of 2023.
The project involves revitalization on the Main Street corridor from State Street to East Fifth Street, including the rebuilding of the roadway, expanded sidewalk space, additional lighting, new traffic signals, landscaping and an updated stormwater drainage system.
Amid the road work, businesses are open, but owners say the limited access has hurt business as parts of the street and sidewalks on Main Street have been torn out.
Knable, who was elected in November to serve as a Floyd County commissioner, will serve on the New Albany City Council through the end of the year before starting his new position. He said he felt a sense of urgency to get the resolution on the agenda — next Thursday is his last meeting for the New Albany City Council, and he wants to make sure the discussion takes place before he leaves the council.
The councilman is calling the proposed grant program the “Main Street Revival-Survival Fund.”
He described the Main Street Revitalization as a “good, necessary project executed in a good, necessary way,” but he wants to address the “collateral damage” of the construction work and make sure the businesses along the Main Street corridor are supported in the meantime.
“We really want to make sure these businesses survive so we don’t have a bunch of empty storefronts along Main Street in three or four months,” Knable said.
Knable said downtown New Albany businesses have faced “multiple storms.” In addition to the ongoing work, they have faced issues such as the pandemic, inflation, supply chain issues and employment challenges, as well as various construction projects in recent years.
“This is not a problem where business has altered because they didn’t have a good product or work,” he said. “In many cases, these business owners put their life savings on the line, and unfortunately, situations came together to create a negative storm for them.”
He said the proposed $500,000 for small business grants would consist of less than 20% of the roughly $2.8 million remaining in New Albany’s ARP funds. The City of New Albany received about $17 million in ARP funds, and the city has provided two rounds of small business grants from the federal COVID-19 relief funding.
The New Albany Redevelopment Commission is handling the allocations of the ARP funding and would ultimately make the decision whether to provide a third round of grants.
In a statement emailed to the News and Tribune, New Albany Mayor Jeff Gahan mentioned the support the city has provided to small businesses in recent years.
“Thanks to the American Rescue Plan Fund, and work from the New Albany Redevelopment Commission and the New Albany City Council, the City of New Albany has dedicated over $1 million in grant funding to our local small businesses, and we will continue to seek ways to keep New Albany residents and businesses strong,” he said.
Gahan said he expects Knable to bring the same request to the Floyd County Commissioners and “dedicate $500,000 to these Main Street businesses as well.”
Knable said he doesn’t “see any reason why we shouldn’t have bipartisan support on this.”
“If these businesses fall, it’s not only a blow to them, it’s a huge blow to the downtown economy,” he said.
The News and Tribune recently talked to multiple shop owners in the Main Street Corridor who called for the city to provide financial support for their businesses during construction.
On Monday, business owners also expressed their concerns during public comments at the New Albany City Council meeting.
Stevie Carper said that in 2020 she invested her life savings and retirement into opening New Albany Sugar Shoppe on Pearl Street, and “it was a success.” But the construction on Main Street this year started to “create havoc” on her candy shop.
“From power outages to a water main break that flooded my shop to my customers having access, this has been my nightmare on Main Street,” she said. “The only way to get to the candy shop right now is through the YMCA parking lot. I have seen a 44% downturn in my business since the Main Street nightmare. I’ve lost thousands of dollars on expired products because no one wants to go through the Main Street construction.”
Carper said she loves downtown New Albany and her shop, but she feels the city has “destroyed her dream” with the Main Street work.
“I need some relief,” she said. “Without a grant from the city, I don’t think I can hang on until September.”
Alan Butts, owner of Coffee Crossing, said business is down between 30% and 40% at the coffee shop’s Main Street location, and other businesses are in a similar situation.
Coffee Crossing consists of seven shops in Southern Indiana. While Butts said the company will survive the construction, he will be cutting hours at the Main Street location in early January due to the loss of business at the shop.
“So employees are losing hours, they’re losing tips, they’re losing their livelihoods,” he said.