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Mill Street modifications move forward

Merchants uneasy about planned construction closures

An artists rendering of a concept for the Mill Street Mall transformation is shown to the Grass Valley City Council during a recent meeting.
Photo: Elias Funez

Modifications to the Mill Street transformation project moved through the Grass Valley City Council during last week’s meeting despite some concerns from downtown Grass Valley merchants.

Concerns ranged from too much public seating being planned, to construction timelines potentially hurting business.

According to the City of Grass Valley, the project involves the transformation of Mill Street — from Neal to West Main Street — and portions of Main Street — from Church Street to Richardson Street — to create a pedestrian friendly, town square atmosphere, allowing restaurants and retail businesses to expand operations into the city right of way.

The project was awarded to Sierra Foothills Construction Company and last month physical construction began along Mill Street replacing water line mains.

Future phases of the project were discussed that would close off much of Mill Street to pedestrians for weeks at a time while construction workers removed asphalt and repave the street with a colored stamped concrete.

Phase one, between Main Street and Bank Street, ideally starts in mid January and would also entail building the drainage systems, planters, trees and lighting. This would be fenced off in what is now the drive aisle and is expected to last into March.

Phase two of construction would be from Neal Street down to Bank Street and would also be fenced off ideally for a couple of months.

“The goal is to have phase 2 and therefore all of Mill Street, the major improvements, complete before the July 4 holiday,” City of Grass Valley’s Bjorn Jones said.

“After that, move on to the improvements along West Main. The landscaping improvements, conduit, lighting that would take us to October of 2023.”

A number of Mill Street Mall merchants spoke during the public comment period for the item.

“As you know I’ve hated this project since day one,” Lazy Dog Chocolateria owner Paula Newman said.

“What I think you’re forgetting here, it’s a place to shop. You keep wanting all these benches, we don’t want a lot of benches. Today I found crack pipes out in my little benches that I put out. I want people to shop then I want them to leave. Because there’s not a lot of parking anymore. Until you can give me more parking, I don’t want people to hang out all day long. I want benches with dividers so that people can sit and not lay on the benches. We want people to shop and have a good time but I don’t want them to stay all day long,” Newman said.

“In 2021 this council forced me into opening a second location why? Because I also carry larger product,” Tess’ Kitchen store owner Penny Short said.

“Ovens, things of that nature that I have to be able to take to people’s cars you increased my employee costs by almost 20 percent forcing me to take that merchandise over to my new location over on the Fowler Center. That store, now as many as three days a week is making more money than my 8,500 square foot store on Mill Street.

“January through July 1st, I guarantee you, will put merchants out of business and you don’t have enough merchant representation here at this moment,” Newman said.

Jonathan McDonald, a downtown business owner and resident, was in favor of the public seating.

“Cars are a place where people can sit when they shop. I look at these benches as a place where people can rest in between shopping. I like it,” McDonald said.

At the end of the discussion, Grass Valley council members provided enough direction to City Manager Tim Kiser so that they can continue to move forward with the project.

It was decided that rock wall planters would have one side of the planter capped with a type of wooden seat and that two pours of colored concrete will be looked at with the contractor.

“We will do two pours with the concrete contractor, kind of taking those colors and making it look pretty,” Kiser said.

To contact Managing Editor Elias Funez email, efunez@theunion.com or call 530-477-4230.

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