Sidewalk replacement project underway in downtown Niles

NOW: Sidewalk replacement project underway in downtown Niles

NILES, Mich. -- On Monday, construction crews started work to replace the old sidewalks in downtown Niles.

"It's been needed for several years and desired for several years," said Joe Ray, Director of Public Works in Niles.

According to Ray, the current sidewalks, made up of stone pavers with raised garden planters, were difficult to maintain, and a possible tripping hazard for people walking downtown, among other issues.

"The raised planter areas had irrigation in those, and a lot of times the irrigation was ruptured, either just with freeze-thaw cycles or people placing items in there, not realizing that there's irrigation in those, and pop a hole in the piping, and when the system were to come on, it washed away a lot of the earth and soil materials, causing the pavers to settle and lean and list and some fall down," said Ray.

So a new sidewalk concept was developed, moving away from the stone pavers to a smooth concrete, which Ray said the city experimented with outside the Post Office Apartments in the early 2000s.

The plan was finally approved a few years ago by the Downtown Development Authority and the state but the city never had the funds to fix up the sidewalks. 

But now, they have the $936,510 needed for the project, thanks to a state Revitalization and Placement (RAP) Grant and American Rescue Plan dollars.

Crews are currently in the first phase of the project, cutting down trees and taking out the planters, before they can start to rip up the sidewalks, which will be done in separate sections, to keep from disrupting all the businesses downtown. 

Some business owners have adopted a wait-and-see attitude towards the changes.

"The way it's gonna affect the business, it's gonna be just, well, we're gonna have to play it by ear and see how it works out," said Paul Salinas-Mornchell, who opened his restaurant, the Downtown Niles Cafe, at the beginning of March. 

He said he was notified in advance that the sidewalk will be inaccessible for customers when crews are at work on his section, though he remains optimistic. 

"To an extent, I know it'll be a little hard for businesses, depending on how long they take, and it's just at the end of the day, it's all about that perseverance,' he said.

It's currently unclear how long it will take to complete an individual section of sidewalk but the hope is to finish the project up by August 31.

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