Downtown Katy construction nearing completion but businesses say it’s taken a toll

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In its mission to become a destination city, Katy has been rehabbing its downtown plaza for a future entertainment and gathering place next to City Hall. But nearby businesses complained that ongoing road improvement project has cost them 25-82 percent of monthly revenues since work began in late January.

Phase 1 of the project resurfaced roadways between Avenue A and Avenue D and between First and Third streets and is expected to finish in November. Phase 2 will install a park and visitor center underneath the Katy water tower at the intersection of Second Street and Avenue B. Phase 2 is expected to begin in early 2018.

The $3 million project is intended to draw more tourism to downtown, and at first, the shops were on board with the idea, said Lou Shillings, co-owner of Rose Royce Antiques at 5625 Third St., Katy. Shillings said owners hoped the infrastructure improvements would improve business.

But she and business partner, Vicki Reue, as well as their neighbors, expressed concerns that what they had understood to be the project’s plan changed before ground breaking.

That plan came out of advisory committee meetings from February 2015 through March 2017 with city officials and area residents.

“During that time, they had decided they would do it in different phases, where they would do one street and they would start a half of it—finish it,” said Betsy Proctor, owner of The Limited Edition Art and Antiques at 5717 Second St., Katy. “Start the next half—finish it—and then they would move on.”

That method became unfeasible, according to Kayce Reina, the city’s director of tourism, marketing and public relations. She said the committee had an informal plan for the construction to progress in L-shaped segments at intersections so each business would only be affected for about two months, she said.

However, the challenges of reworking roadways—some of which had not been upgraded since 1945—and other infrastructure made that method too expensive.

Meanwhile, Shillings said construction machinery occasionally blocked access to businesses, and communication between the city, Missouri City-based Millis Equipment—the contractor—and business owners was lacking.

Shillings was also concerned that Second and Third streets were made into one-way streets, but proper signage was not installed in a timely manner. Reina said the city ensured businesses were accessible and added each owner could contact Millis Equipment with questions or concerns. The city also put up signs nearby that read, “Downtown Businesses Open.”

“At the beginning [revenue]was down about a quarter, maybe a little less than a quarter, but as soon as they flipped over and started doing my side of the street, we were down about 70 percent because people couldn’t get over here,” Proctor said.

She said the street signs were misleading as well, with some reading “Road Closed” when in fact one lane would be open. Shillings, Proctor and other business owners said customers contacted them asking when roads would be open again, and Proctor said communication often did not come from Millis as promised.

“The work significantly improved the area by adding more than 100 parking spaces, new water and sewer lines, making the walkways compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, new LED street lights and a safer, more pedestrian-friendly environment overall,” Reina said.

Phase 1 of the project is complete, but the city is still working to implement Phase 2. Bill Bain, who owns KT Antiques at 5614 Second St., Katy, said he spoke with City Administrator Byron Hebert about extending the project to Avenue A or East Avenue.

“Existing businesses will reap the benefits of the improved downtown,” Reina said. “It will facilitate new businesses and restaurants, and create an environment that is welcoming to residents and tourists without [increasing]taxes.”

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R. Hans Miller

R. Hans Miller joined the Community Impact team in June 2017. He is a recent graduate of Texas State University's College of Journalism and Mass Communication, a U.S. Army veteran, husband and father. He is originally from Montana. He has written for VoiceBox Media and the San Marcos Daily Record, among others. He covers city government, emergency services, local business development and other topics for the Katy area.

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