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'There's Going to Be Nothing Left' — Jamaica Plain Businessman Worries Casey Project Will Kill Forest Hills Shops

Brad Brown of Blue Frog Bakery said a small sewer project nearly put his Green Street shop out of business. He says something must be done to help Forest Hills businesses survive during the years-long Casey Arborway construction.

The mayor has called it nothing less than a "second Big Dig." It's the Casey Arborway project. And it will make life hard for Forest Hills businesses for years.

On Wednesday, as state officials informed a group of local stakeholders about the plans for the various stages of the massive demolition and construction project, one local businessman sounded the alarm. Narrowed roads, closed sidewalks and the general chaos of construction could spell doom to businesses in Forest Hills.

"You're going to see a wasteland along Washington Street," said Chef Brad Brown, owner of Blue Frog Bakery. "There's going to be nothing left."

Brown recalls how when he opened his Green Street bakery, a small sewer project right in front of his store nearly drove his nascent shop out of business.

The work associated with tearing down the Casey Overpass and replacing it with a network of street level roads is many orders of magnitude beyond a simple sewer project. Construction would last about two and half years, from early 2014 to September 2016.

Asked if the Department of Transportation would reimburse local businesses for the damage to their livelihoods, the agency's manager of long-range planning, Katherine Fichter, gave a flat no.

City of Boston agencies like the Neighborhood Development Department might be more helpful, though no specific plans appear to be in place.

"It's a priority of the mayor to help businesses during construction," Vineet Gupta, director of planning for the Boston Transportation Department, told the crowd of about 50 officials and stakeholders.

Liz O'Connor, a member of the stakeholder group, said the business district along Washington is relatively new and fragile. There are several new businesses along the stretch, including , , the refurbished at Tower Street and the soon-to-open . Well established businesses may have trouble too, like and .

There is historical precedent for payouts to businesses disrupted by construction in JP. Brown, citing information from JP historian Michael Reiskind, said that when was built up in the 1980s, some businesses did get reimbursed. But the process was very flawed. Only businesses that survived the construction period got any money. And that money was not given in a timely way, Brown said.

The lack of support for businesses back then, Brown said, is visible today as the district struggles to thrive.

Project managers said they would strive to make the portions of the demolition and construction that will have the most negative impact as short as possible. For instance, there will be a time when Washington Street will be narrowed to one lane in each direction while the old bridge parts directly above the roadway are removed.

One member of the stakeholder group, whose name Patch didn't catch, spoke up to say it would be up to the community to pay special attention to Forest Hills businesses during construction and support them.

Rosa S July 20, 2012 at 04:28 PM
Having a major street not accessible will detour drivers/pedestrians/consumers to new streets that will decrease sales from the already opened/invested/committed vendors. Although the final product will be beneficial, the process it will take will no doubt affect existing storeowners in a negative way. My only hope is that these existing business survive the construction. It definitely doesnt look good. A lot of commerical leases are for 10 years and to be locked into a location like that when your business wil be affected for years to come seems like a recipe for failure.
Chris Helms July 20, 2012 at 04:28 PM
You make a good, long-range point, Liam. Thanks. It's also true that the construction impact on businesses would probably have been about the same, even if the state had decided to put up a new bridge.
Phil Lindsay July 23, 2012 at 03:08 PM
The bottom line is that removing the overpass will ultimately save us all money! Data suggests slowing traffice and improving pedestrian and cycling access is good for businesses as pedestrians and cyclists are more prone to stop and shop than motorists just passing through. Add to that the prospect the repair of the current overpass would be the third one in my memory and it makes sense that we take down what is a costly dinosaur. Besides even if they did replace the overpass there is an impact due to that construction no? Go for the full fix not the expensive patch job.
Paul Murphy July 25, 2012 at 03:13 PM
Does anyone know the schedule of paving that's now taking place on the outbound side of the Casey Highway\Arborway, like when does it begin on a given day and when does it stop for that same day? How long is the paving scheduled for? Thanks, Paul
Chris Helms July 25, 2012 at 04:44 PM
Hi Paul, I'll try to find out about the schedule. There's a crew on Walk Hill today (and they've working really fast, I've got to say.)

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