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City officials target Thanksgiving for substantial completion of Complete Streets project

Streets, sidewalks may be open if weather remains warm

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
A new roundabout sits in the middle of the intersection of West Main Street and Behrend Avenue in downtown Farmington as work on the Complete Streets project continues on Oct. 30, 2020.
  • City officials hope to have the district ready to welcome visitors by Small Business Saturday.
  • Work on the project began in early January.
  • Work on some aspects of the project will continue indefinitely.

FARMINGTON — A project designed to transform the look and feel of downtown Farmington is entering its final phase after almost a year of work, with city officials saying it should be substantially complete by Thanksgiving if the weather cooperates.

The second phase of the Complete Streets project is due for completion in the next three and a half weeks — meaning streets and sidewalks will be open, and access to businesses largely will be unimpeded — as along as temperatures remain warm and dry enough for workers to finish pouring concrete and laying asphalt, said Warren Unsicker, the city's economic development director.

The second phase of the project extends along West Main Street from Allen Avenue on the east end to Auburn Avenue on the west end.

The $9.2 million project — coupled with a separate $2.5 million project focused on utility infrastructure upgrades — is designed to enhance the appearance and appeal of the district by calming traffic, making it more pedestrian friendly and giving it facelift.

The work includes new curbs, sidewalks, gutters, planters, roundabouts, landscaping, furnishings, lighting and signage, and the reduction of traffic from four lanes to two through the corridor.

Warren Unsicker.

Work on phase one of the project from Hill Street to Allen Avenue began on Jan. 6, and it was substantially completed by July 9. City officials have targeted Thanksgiving weekend for the reopening of Main Street all the way through the corridor since work began because they wanted drivers and pedestrians to have access to all of the district for the holiday shopping season.

That deadline is contributing to a sense of urgency as the calendar has turned to November. Unsicker said he is optimistic the general contractor, Albuquerque-based AUI Inc., will be able to finish the paving and sidewalks by the holiday if the weather remains nice. But he acknowledged another cold or wet snap could result in a setback.

"They're working as diligently and quickly as they can," he said.

Related:Section of Main Street through downtown will reopen on July 9

Avoiding bad breaks

Substantial completion of the first phase of the project came several weeks after the target date because of unanticipated issues with the infrastructure work. But city officials were hopeful phase two would go more smoothly because AUI workers would have a better idea of what to expect when they started excavating.

Unsicker said he believes that is exactly what has happened.

"If you look back at when we launched phase two, it seemed like the ground was closed up a lot quicker than in phase one," he said, noting there were no situations in which workers unexpectedly encountered water or sewer lines and ruptured them, as they did during the phase one work. "There can be a lot of surprises when you're dealing with 60- or 70-year-old infrastructure. They knew what to expect a little bit more (during phase two), and that helped expedite some things."

Paving is due to begin within the next few weeks on West Main Street in downtown Farmington if the weather remains relatively warm and dry, according to Warren Unsicker, the city's economic development director.

City officials are hoping to be able to show off the work on Small Business Saturday, traditionally held on the Saturday after Thanksgiving when shoppers nationwide are encouraged to patronize independent, locally owned businesses. The event is planned for Nov. 28 this year, and that will serve as a coming-out party, of sorts, for the Complete Streets project, since the COVID-19 pandemic kept downtown boosters and merchants from holding a large, public celebration when phase one opened.

But even if the streets and sidewalks are open by that day, that doesn't mean the work is finished. The addition of speakers for a public-address system will come later, as will the installation of free, public WiFi, and benches and trash receptacles.

Additionally, workers in the city's Parks, Recreation & Cultural Affairs department continue to wait for the delivery of dozens of trees that will provide the finishing aesthetic touches for the project. City officials originally scheduled the planting of those trees for October, when the weather turned cooler.

But city spokeswoman Georgette Allen said the company that is selling the trees to the city is waiting to ship them until the trees drop their leaves and go into hibernation. Once that has happened, the trees can be shipped for planting, she said, and it is believed they will stand a much better chance of survival when they are in a dormant condition.

A different kind of Festival of Trees

Another event that should attract visitors to the refurbished district is the annual Festival of Trees, which is being modified and moved from its traditional home at the Farmington Civic Center to downtown this year. Carrie Wiedmeyer-Olson — a marketing and community relations specialist for Presbyterian Medical Services, which sponsors the event — said the event will kick off on Nov. 28 and continue through Dec. 6.

The owners of more than two dozen downtown businesses have agreed to display the trees in their storefront windows this year, she said, so pedestrians will be able to walk through the district and see them or even stop inside for a closer look. Visitors interested in purchasing one of the trees will be able to buy online tokens for them for 50 cents, enter them in a drawing, then await the results on Dec. 6.

City officials hope to have the second phase of the Complete Streets project in downtown Farmington substantially complete by Thanksgiving.

While many of the events usually associated with the festival can't be held this year because of the pandemic, Wiedmeyer-Olson said organizers are planning a tree treasure hunt with a "Where's Waldo" structure and a virtual teddy bear story time event. Plans are also being made for a drive-thru "Polar Express" event at San Juan College, she said.

Details on all those activities will be posted next week when the festival's website, pmsfestivaloftrees.com, goes live, she said.

Wiedmeyer-Olson said the pandemic has ensured that this year's festival will be much different than those that have gone before it. But she said she's thrilled that organizers were able to find some way to make it happen this year, even as so many other annual events have fallen by the wayside because of the virus.

"We did a survey early on asking if people would be interested in something like this, and everybody said, 'Please don't get rid of it,'" she said. "No matter what happens this will work. Even if businesses are closed, people can still walk by and see the trees and go online to buy a token."

Wiedmeyer said the festival's website also would provide information for individuals, or companies or organization interested in donating trees, or downtown businesses willing to display the trees.

What's next for downtown?

The eventual finish of the Complete Streets project will not mark the end of efforts to promote the district, Unsicker said, explaining that the focus then will turn to creating ties between Boyd Park and the Animas District, and downtown. He said those efforts will include not just signage, but amenities designed to promote the flow of pedestrian traffic between the two.

"We've got a lot of things we want to see happen for downtown between there and the (Metropolitan Redevelopment Area)," he said. "We want to connect the river to downtown."

Related:Complaints from business owners surface as Complete Streets work progresses

Unsicker said those improvements would not take place at breakneck speed, but he pointed to the money the city has spent to renovate a warehouse structure it owns near Boyd Park for outdoor recreation businesses. He said that serves as an example of the city's commitment to developing synergy between the two areas.

Complete Streets supporters always have maintained the downtown facelift will inject new life into the district, but the project has not come without its detractors, including the downtown business owners who saw their traffic plummet when access to their enterprises was greatly restricted by the construction. Those issues were made worse when the pandemic struck, and now it remains to be seen how many of those businesses will survive to enjoy the benefits of the construction.

The Three Rivers Brewery block in downtown Farmington once employed close to 100 people, but its taproom is now the only brewery-related enterprise that remains open.

John Silva, owner of the Three Rivers Brewery block consisting of a dining room, tap room, pizzeria and brewstillery, has been a vocal critic of the way the project has been handled and shut down his entire group of businesses for several weeks earlier this year. Only the tap room has reopened, and Three Rivers is employing only a small number of the nearly 100 people who were working there at this time a year ago.

Silva said recently he is unsure when or even if he will reopen his other enterprises.

Related:Three Rivers tap room reopens, but fate of restaurants remains unclear

Unsicker acknowledged the past year has been a rough go for many of those downtown merchants. But he said many patrons demonstrated they were willing to go to the extra mile on behalf of their favorite businesses in the district.

"Everyone, if they had a crystal ball, they would do things differently," he said of the timing of the construction and of the pandemic. "But, honestly, I think the project was handled really well. The community really doubled down on supporting downtown businesses. … The community really made the effort to support businesses through this, and that speaks volumes."

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription.