September 27, 2023 2:55 am
Business owners frustrated by construction delays on East Side

The completion date on the 2017 voter-approved North New Braunfels street bond project on San Antonio’s East Side has been delayed by two months, causing frustration in the business community along the corridor. 

North New Braunfels, from Burleson Street down to East Houston Street, has been a construction zone since November 2021 and was slated for completion this month, but city officials say tight working conditions, utility issues and weather have delayed the project.

Construction started on the left side of the corridor toward I-35, but switched to the right side this year, causing problems for small business owners who say that for months, business has been negatively impacted. 

The construction is now expected to be completed in July.

“This is causing a lot of problems for people down [here] that have businesses,” said Robert Aguilar, manager at Security Loan Company, a lender and pawn shop on the 1000 block of North New Braunfels Street. “If they know they’re going to be delayed, they need to do something. Two months? That could make or break somebody. They could go out of business because of that.” 

For customers picking up a pie at Tank’s Pizza, only three parking spots are available, one of which is for handicap pass drivers only. Two blocks down at Security Loan Company, half of the parking lot is blocked off due to construction, leaving four non-handicap spots available to shoppers. 

“It’s hurting us drastically,” Aguilar said. “It’s hurting everything — the business all the way around. … Sometimes they close Lamar Street and Gabriel Street. It might not be all day, but it hurts when they do that.”

During the day, construction workers in hard hats and neon vests drill concrete in the turning lane in the middle of the street and on sidewalks. Some hold stop signs, and others drive trucks with flashing lights along the zone. 

Two-way traffic is directed by signals displayed on orange and white barricades, allowing traffic to flow through.  

“For the last three months, the machines have been directly in front of our building, blocking business,” said Nnika Cleaver, the owner of Black Business San Antonio, a networking hub and workspace for Black-owned businesses next to Tank’s Pizza.

“There’s no parking and a lot of times, [customers] can’t even hardly get to our door,” she said.

At first, the construction delays were due to utility issues related to old pipes, said Razi Hosseini, director of the city’s public works department. Then, two-way traffic limited the space in which the contractor on the project could work. Most recently, inclement weather has caused delays, he said. 

“On certain days, a contractor either couldn’t work, or couldn’t work as actively as they’d like to work,” Hosseini said. “[The] contractor has increased their resources to expedite as much as possible, but contractually, they will be due at the end of May.”

The contractor, E-Z Bel Construction, LLC., will be fined by the City of San Antonio $1,150 per day that construction is delayed past the original contract date, according to the city’s responsible bidder ordinance.

Hosseini said the fines will be put back into the project. E-Z Bel Construction did not reply to requests for comment. 

Hosseini said the city does not have an in-house contractor to do major bond projects, and that a majority of the projects are completed by contractors hired by the city. 

“We are very sensitive about our effect on the community and traveling public,” he said, and added that each delay is communicated to business owners biweekly or weekly as needed. That communication happens via email or through the city’s outreach specialists who serve as a point of contact for business owners, he said. 

But Aguilar said he, for one, wasn’t aware the project was pushed to July. 

“They never inform us. They’ve never come in and told us, ‘Hey it’s going to take longer.’ Or send an email or a phone call, nothing,” he said. “They need to pay attention to the businesses.”

In January, City Council approved grants meant to help business owners who lost income due to construction across the city. Applications for the $10,000 to $35,000 grants were open in February, and available to business owners in 15 corridors where construction is ongoing, including North St. Mary’s Street and Broadway, as well as along North New Braunfels.

Applicants had to prove a loss of $10,000 or more since 2021 to be eligible for the grant, said Ana Bradshaw, assistant director for the city’s economic development department.

Submitted applications are still being reviewed and should wrap up next week, Bradshaw said. All applicants will be notified of their status by June 2, according to the grant website timeline.

District 2 Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez said after council approved the construction grant program, which was funded by Covid-era ARPA dollars, his office and economic development staffers block-walked the North New Braunfels neighborhood to let businesses know about the opportunity.

“We were really aggressively outreaching, because I wanted to make sure that North New Braunfels was covered,” McKee-Rodriguez said.

Tank’s Pizza also hosted a workshop event on the grants, he said.

The city’s Economic Development department has received 28 submitted applications from business owners on North New Braunfels Street, McKee-Rodriguez and Bradshaw said. 

“I’m frustrated by a two-month delay as well, we don’t want to see it be a situation where a business closes down,” said McKee-Rodriguez, comparing the effects of construction on business owners to the effects of gentrification in the same neighborhoods. 

Bradshaw said that while the city’s economic development office can’t make construction move any faster, it is doing its part in helping mitigate the complications business owners are facing. 

“Our business outreach specialists are routinely out on the corridors talking to the businesses,” Bradshaw said. “A lot of businesses will just contact us directly if there’s an issue or something, to make sure that we are connecting them with with the resources they need or sharing information with public works.”

The economic development office is also reaching out to businesses on streets that will be under construction soon, she said, and is incentivizing early completion of projects for contractors. 

“We’re really looking to the future to mitigate the impact, so we’re not in a situation like we are right now,” Bradshaw said. “We want people to know that they’re still open and that these small businesses need support.”

McKee-Rodriguez said that the city should focus on the future, explaining that a sustainable solution — one not dependent on ARPA funds — is necessary to support businesses negatively affected by construction. He added that he would like to gather a group of business owners impacted by this construction or future projects to hear what resources would help them sustain their businesses.

“We’re going to need a permanent fund for programs, like a grant program, and we need to find that money ASAP,” McKee-Rodriguez said.

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