Local businesses lament lost business, hazards from local construction

Local business owners and managers say construction on Geerhouse complex blocks parking and flow of traffic on Geer Street and Rigsbee Avenue. (Photo by Tanner Arter.)

Friday, April 19, 2024

By Tanner Arter

Local businesses said they are facing the brunt of the construction of Durham’s new apartment complexes, Geerhouse and 710 Rigsbee, but if they can survive construction, the businesses may see a boost long term.

Megan Saunders, assistant general manager of Fullsteam Brewery, said construction on the new residential buildings caused several hardships during the last two years including blocked parking and falling debris.

Because 18-wheelers and heavy machinery regularly block the side of the road where patrons used to park, Saunders said she has had to make accommodations to remain open.

“We, in particular, have lost some of our outdoor space because of construction,” she said. “Really, we’re just trying to figure out new ways to use the space we still have.”

Saunders also said blocked entrances made accessibility an issue for those with disabilities and debris from construction has fallen on the brewery’s roof.

Although construction of these mixed-use residential areas hurt local businesses’ bottom lines temporarily, once construction is completed, a mutual relationship can form between these businesses and new residents, according to James Rispoli, a professor of environmental engineering at NC State

“You can have a compatible type of situation where the residential people that the development is being built for can take advantage of the businesses and vice versa,” Rispoli said.

Other long-term benefits include less traffic congestion and exhaust emissions, as residents would be within walking distance to businesses on their street, Rispoli said.

Across the street from the brewery, Motorco Music Hall is also at the heart of the construction of Geerhouse.

Jeremy Roth, founding partner of Motorco, said business slowed the moment Four Points, the real-estate developers in charge of Geerhouse, broke ground in 2022.

“The whole idea of a two-year giant construction project is devastating, and you can see it in the numbers,” he said. “You can clearly see where it started. Our revenue is down considerably since the construction started.”

The same issues that plagued Fullsteam Brewery affect Motorco as well. Roth said the residual consequences of construction, including crude fencing, tarps and piles of dirt deter potential guests.

“Alongside the parking issues, it’s also just messy and not an appealing area,” Roth said.

Originally scheduled to break ground in 2020, Geerhouse construction was postponed due to the pandemic. Specific problems with the site, including  issues with stormwater drainage, also create more obstacles to the construction timeline, prolonging surrounding businesses’ struggles.

With certain projects, Durham may require developers to repave roads and replace sidewalks, another issue Motorco currently faces.

Roth said he worries that during sidewalk reconstruction fencing that will surround the area could close off Motorco’s outdoor patio to guests.

“I’ve been struggling to negotiate with them on how they are going to address that problem,” Roth said. “From my point of view, you’re closing off our patio, which is our main selling point.”

The sidewalk repairs being done currently were set to begin in December of 2023, but were pushed back for unknown reasons. Roth said the delayed timing only impacted his business more as the weather warms up and outdoor dining returns from a winter hiatus.

There are several reasons why construction projects go over their proposed timelines, one of which is called ‘optimism bias,’ according to Rispoli.

“When you’re looking to do something, you’re presuming that it’s going to go right,” he said. “When any of those things that could have been included in the projections happen, we’re faced with a delay, which becomes an extended cost.”