The construction of US 51 in Minocqua, "the Island City," resulted in a north-south divided corridor through the downtown retail district. The project posed significant disruption to businesses in the popular Oneida County tourist destination.
Reconstruction of the existing two-lane US 51 into four lanes - two southbound lanes on the existing road and two northbound lanes one block to the east - started on July 8, 1996, one week after the peak July 4 holiday tourism weekend.
In August, area businesses created a construction zone advertising campaign and placed full-page advertisements in the local newspaper, the Lakeland Times. The ads featured a full-color photo of 28 business owners and employees posed before a front-end loader. The headline read, "The Construction is Here, The Hard Hats Are in Gear! We're Open for Business. We're Glad You're Here!"
"The Greatest-Yet Island Promotion" ran through the fall Colorama tourism season. Construction was largely completed in November 1996.
With a last-minute promotional effort to maintain business during the disruption of highway construction, how did the businesses fare? How did the new highway configuration affect business?
Three Lakeland Union High School marketing students answered these questions. In December 1996, the students conducted a market research project by distributing 45 surveys to businesses in the retail district. A week later, the students collected 35 completed surveys.
One conclusion from the 13-question survey indicated that 77 percent of respondents felt construction affected their business. The majority of business owners said construction had negative impacts, because of congestion, the mess, and inconvenience to shoppers. However, after the US 51 project was completed, many businesses indicated they had been impacted positively due to improved exposure to customers.
The results of the survey support an experience common to many WisDOT urban construction projects, an experience that suggests three "truths:" conducting business in a construction zone is always difficult; highway improvement is perceived by businesses as positive once construction is completed; and aggressive promotion is advantageous, the earlier the better.