A long-awaited $1.3 million streetscape improvement project in downtown Wetumpka began Monday and engineers plan for the freshly paved streets, new sidewalks, drains and landscaping to be completed before the Christmas shopping season.

“It’s exciting,” Mayor Jerry Willis said. “It’s been six years from the time it got laid it out. It’s been a lot of work.”

The project will be done in four phases, according to city planning and project director David Robison, and will include new asphalt from Commerce Street to the intersection of Green and Company streets. Hill, Orline and Company streets will be resurfaced, sidewalks will be improved and made compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act regulations, brick pavers will be laid down at intersections, landscaping added, drains cleaned and new grates installed.

The four phases are:

• Phase 1, the south side of East Bridge and Court streets nearest the Bibb Graves Bridge.

• Phase 2, East Bridge and Court streets farther to the east.

• Phase 3, Company and North Hill streets.

• Phase 4, the north side of East Bridge Street.

Goodwyn Mills Cawood engineer Jeff Fennell said each phase would take three to four weeks and the plan is to be finished before Christmas so parades, decorations, festivities and holiday shopping won’t be interrupted.

But construction will create a shortage of parking space downtown, a problem Willis and project managers said will require patience, especially from downtown businesses.

“There is going to be some discomfort, some demolition,” Clint Mitchell of Mitchell Contracting Service said. “There are going to be different traffic flows, different parking schemes. There will be a lot of businesses we’ll be impacting to maintain access. The biggest thing is parking.”

Roughly the same number of parking spaces will be available when the project is complete but until then officials are asking business owners, employees and customers to use off-site parking.

“What we’d like you to do as merchants is find off-street parking for your vehicles and we will help you find it,” said Willis, who owns a barber shop in the affected area. “We will have police officers to help you get that person to your front door so they can stop and spend their money with you. We don’t want to write parking tickets downtown. Think about where you are parking and don’t move in front of someone else’s business. Hopefully the merchants and their employees will work with us on the parking. We can get through this. We don’t want the businesses hurt. We’re going to take it a day at a time.”

The following areas are off-street parking sites, Robison said: The city public lot at Coaches Corner, space behind the Elmore County Museum, at the Elmore County Courthouse after hours and along Spring Street.

“It may seem like a long distance to walk but to put it in perspective, off-site parking will not be much different than parking at Walmart and walking in,” Robison said.

There is more to the project than curb appeal, especially for those walking around downtown.

“One of the main purposes is to increase pedestrian safety,” Robison said. “One of the things people have told us is they don’t feel safe crossing the roads. There will be extended curbs that will shorten the distance people have to cross and also narrow the road to slow down traffic.”

The city began thinking about downtown revival in 2013 when it got money from a Community Development Block Grant to devise plans. In 2014 the city got $800,000 in CDBG funds to increase the capacity of water and sewer under the streets downtown to support development.

“Now we’re going to fix everything on top of the streets,” Robison said.

Only $238,200 in local funds will be needed for the $1.328 million project as the federal government is paying $1.09 million in an 80/20 split, according to Robison, who said he confirmed with the Alabama Department of Transportation $137,615.46 in construction, engineering and inspection (CE&I) costs the city is paying up front will be fully reimbursed with federal dollars. 

Robison said the city will continue applying for grants to improve and beautify downtown Wetumpka.

“This has been something we have been continually working on since 2014 and we will continue working on it,” Robison said. “We cracked the code on federal funding and we will continue to seek it.”

Seventy business days have been allotted for the construction, which will generally last from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day, although project managers said they will cooperate with merchants if more of their business comes at a particular time of day.

Construction of a roundabout at the intersection of Company and Orline streets has been delayed, Robison said.