Road construction through a major commercial area is never easy or pleasant. However the folks in downtown Menomonie went through a major tear-up during summer 1997, and it turned out better than they could have ever hoped.
Major community planning for construction actually began more than three years before the first dirt was moved. Led by Menomonie's Main Street Program, the board of directors chose the historic street lights, benches, trash receptacles and brick pavers that would be added as the streets, sidewalks, and curbs and gutters were torn out and replaced.
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation had been planning the reconstruction of WIS 29 (Main Street) and WIS 25 (South Broadway Street) for more than five years. The roads carried much more traffic than they did when they were originally built. Replacement of the utilities, including water and gas laterals, water mains, and storm sewers, were included in the project.
The director of the Main Street Program began informing the community more than two years in advance to expect road construction and its inconveniences. Public meetings were held to tell the community what would be included in the project.
A year before work began, Main Street sponsored two seminars for downtown merchants. The first told them what to expect as construction was going on through the various stages, and the second focused on financial planning and inventory control. In November 1996, surveys were sent to all of the businesses to help address concerns as construction plans were being developed.
In December 1996, Main Street began meeting with the city of Menomonie to plan customer parking. They wanted to make it easier for customers to park close to the businesses. Permit parking lots adjacent to downtown were turned into customer lots. The Main Street office developed color-coded maps that were distributed to customers prior to construction. Copies of the brochure were also placed in racks at tourist centers, hotels/motels, and restaurants in the outlying areas away from downtown. Colored signs were placed throughout the downtown showing customers where they could leave their vehicles. The local newspaper also published the maps and the detour routes prior to and during construction.
A dedicated group of volunteers met in January 1997 to plan a massive six-month promotional campaign that would keep downtown in the minds of customers during construction. They decided if they were to be "Going Bananas" during road construction, they would bring in a friendly gorilla to make twice-a-week visits downtown to greet customers, draw for prizes and distribute bright yellow "Going Bananas" t-shirts. Fifteen volunteers took turns dressing up in the gorilla suit for the various visits.
Two meetings were held for business owners the week before construction began. Once the improvements started, Main Street became the liaison between the businesses and the project engineers. Meetings were held every other week to keep businesses owners updated. On weeks when meetings weren't possible, a newsletter was mailed to each business to let them know what was happening.
The local newspaper ran weekly articles (many contributed by the director of Main Street) and photos to let the community know what was happening. The local radio station also conducted weekly interviews with the project leader and the Main Street director.
In early July, the day before the first phase of the project opened, Main Street held a lighting ceremony for the new street lights and a street dance to celebrate. Then, in September, the Governor and Transportation Secretary assisted in a ribbon cutting at the completion of the entire project.
All in all the project ran very smoothly. However, most of the businesses saw a decline in customers. Main Street's objective was to keep the businesses affected by the construction, their customers and the entire community informed as to what was going on. By planning ahead and working diligently, they kept confusion to a minimum.