Business Owners On Avenue Of Fashion Protest Amid Struggles Caused By Streetscape Construction

"We are just weathering the storm," one business owner said.

WWJ News
August 22, 2019 - 9:07 pm

Photo: Jon Hewett / WWJ

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DETROIT (WWJ) -- The City of Detroit has rolled out plans for a loan program to benefit small business owners affected by the ongoing streetscape construction along Livernois Avenue.

Famously known as "The Avenue of Fashion," the stretch of Livernois between 7 Mile and 8 Mile roads is being overhauled as part of the city's plans to revamp and rejuvenate commercial corridors in numerous neighborhoods across Detroit.

Many business owners along the Avenue of Fashion say their business has been hurt badly since construction began.

"We are just weathering the storm," Kenneth Brock told WWJ's Jon Hewett.

Brock is the owner of Emah Couture and he says business for him is down 80% because of the construction. 

The project along Livernois, estimated to cost about $17 million, is expected to take several more months to complete. The city announced earlier this week that business owners can apply for loans of $20,000 without having to make payments for the first two years, until after the streetscape construction is complete.

Protesters gathered near Livernois and McNichols Road Thursday afternoon to voice their displeasure with the loan program. Many affected by the construction believe the city should be able to provide grant money, rather than making them pay it back.

"When they started doing construction in May, they didn't even create entrances to the businesses," one shop owner said. "When you start that way, it's letting me know that the businesses were'nt even a concern from the beginning."

The popular Kuzzo's Chicken and Waffled opted to close until November, hoping to wait out construction, while other businesses have seen sharp drops in sales. 

Business owners want to remind the public that they're still open for business, even with the construction still ongoing.

"I make a plea to the city of Detroit to still come out and support us here on the Avenue of Fashion," Brock says.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan told WWJ "it may have been a mistake" to try and complete all the construction in the one-mile stretch in just one year, though he says that's what many business owners wanted "because they wanted to have it over with."

"But we were not as well prepared for that level of disruption as we should have been," he said.

Earlier in August, parking on both sides of the street was taken away and the city organized free parking at multiple nearby parking lots, providing a shuttle to the area. Duggan says the city should have had everything in place before moving forward.

"We didn’t have the parking lined up, we didn’t have the signage done, we didn’t have the marketing done, we didn’t have the shuttles done. But working closely with the businesses, we’ve made dramatic steps and now that the two center lanes are paved and the median’s gone, it’s much easier to get in and out of there than it was two weeks ago," he said.

The loan program -- managed by the Detroit Economic Growth Corp. and the Invest Detroit Foundation -- is expected to be launched next week and will be seeking approval soon. Once the program is approved, applications will be available at degc.org. After making 24 months of on-time payments, the remaining 36 months of the loan will be forgiven, meaning the business owners can have 60% of their loan forgiven, according to a report from the Detroit News.