Prince Arthur Street businesses say they are being hampered by construction
Merchants say business is down 60 to 70 per cent since construction started in August
John Morazzani shakes his head, frustrated, as he looks at the construction zone outside his business, the Maison Métivier tea house, at the corner of Prince Arthur and de Bullion streets.
"Now there's holes with steel pegs sticking out of it everywhere, there's broken asphalt, there's gravel everywhere, more holes, more excavation, there's orange cones, fences, danger tape pretty much everywhere," Morazzani said.
Construction to revitalize the pedestrian strip of Prince Arthur Street — between St-Laurent Boulevard and Laval Street — began August 22.
It's a $3.8-million project, funded by the City of Montreal and managed by the Plateau–Mont-Royal borough, that is part of plans to mark Montreal's 375th anniversary.
But business owners on Prince Arthur Street say the construction zone is a chaotic mess that has caused business to drop between 60 and 70 per cent.
Dramatic drop in business
"That loss is two to three months cash flow down the drain. You can't pay yourself, you can't pay your employees," said Morazzani.
He added that he has let go of five employees, is now working seven days a week, and yet still cannot make his rent payments.
"I cannot come up with the money. The reality is money doesn't grow on trees. If business is not there, sorry but I can't pay," he said.
Down the street at Rubs restaurant, on the corner of St-Laurent Boulevard, business is down between 20 and 30 per cent, according to owner Mike Michakis.
"They've got to manage this better," he said. "I think maybe they should come here and see what's going on."
Michakis said although his terrasse has not yet been torn up, construction workers park their cars in front of it, so many people assume the restaurant is closed.
"It looks like they're blocking the entrance of my restaurant, so nobody could even come in," he said.
A 'well-managed' project, borough says
A Plateau–Mont-Royal borough councillor, Projet Montréal's Christine Gosselin, insists the construction project is going well, is on-time and on-budget.
"It's being well-managed, it's moving fast, you can see the results day by day," she said.
But some businesses say too much is being done too fast; there have been too many surprises for them.
"We want to have a little bit more of a say on how these things are executed," said Leonardo Nieto-Montenegro, head of the Prince Arthur Street merchants' association.
Many business owners are suffering, he said, and are being forced to cut opening hours and cut staff.
Contractor receives warnings
Pedestrians and cyclists on Prince Arthur must navigate through dirt and a maze of temporary fences, which don't always block off deep holes in the street.
The borough acknowledges that the private contractor has been "warned several times" about safety issues.
"It's difficult because they are working so fast and there are changes, but we have demanded they make some substantial improvements to the safety of the site," Gosselin said.
People who live in the area have no choice but to deal with it.
"It's a big mess. You can barely walk, it's dusty ... I'm used to it," said Sheila Khorvash, who lives just off Prince Arthur Street.
The Prince Arthur Street merchants' association would like a break on terrasse permits for the next year or two and for businesses to get some tax breaks.
But Morazzani fears his business may not survive long enough to see any of that, let alone the improvements to Prince Arthur Street.
"Every businessman believes in his dream and tries not to give up. But, honestly, this time this is really rough," Morazzani said.