Residents have accepted the growth of this local area as a fact of life, but the process of a recent construction project has left several local businesses wondering what the light at the end of the tunnel may be.
As Mike Pushkin and Kevin Hernandez walk up to the Wakefield Crowbar each day, the hustle and bustle of the ongoing construction along Alba Road hits them full in the face. The work has completely blocked access to Wakefield via Alba Road, which has forced drivers to detour around the neighborhood to reach the bar—and the pair just wants answers.
“You’ve just got to know you can get to us. We have no idea when it’s going to stop,” bar manager Kevin Hernandez said.
The $19.55-million Garden Oaks and Shepherd Park Project, part of the city of Houston’s Capital Improvement Plan, is aimed at reducing the risk of structural flooding in Garden Oaks, Shepherd Forest, Shepherd Park, Candlelight Plaza and other surrounding areas through design and construction of storm drainage improvements, necessary concrete paving, curbs, sidewalks, driveways and underground utilities. Areas to be affected by the work include Alba from Chamboard Lane to Judiway Street, Brinkman Street from Janisch Road to Chamboard Lane and Chamboard Lane from Alba to Brinkman Street.
“We want to make sure we do everything we can to help residents and homeowners,” Alanna Reed with the city of Houston said of the project, which began construction last October. “We’re constantly trying to improve the system and infrastructure which is there, and with projects like this we absolutely can.”
As the Wakefield Crowbar duo comes to work each day, the construction is but a minor annoyance; however, their deeper fear is with regards to their customer base, which they believe has taken a hit.
“If it’s annoying me and I have to come here, some neighborhood folks might say ‘I’m not going there, I don’t want to deal with that traffic or construction over there because it’s annoying,” Hernandez said. “We’ve seen a lot less of our regular neighbors here over the last two months.”
“I’ll drive by a place if there’s not enough parking, so if it looked like it was more difficult to even get to the place, I’d probably head on down the road,” Pushkin added.
Fellow business and popular neighborhood dining spot Liberty Kitchen has also taken a hit with reduced foot traffic.
“We’re looking at a loss of anywhere from 25 to 40 percent week to week,” Liberty Kitchen co-owner Brian Schrumpf said. “Our lunch business has certainly been the most damaged.”
Hernandez said such a downturn never comes without trickle-down effects.
“I think it had a substantial effect on our business for sure, which then trickles down to all of our employees,” he said. “Bartenders don’t make as many tips, that means the bar backs don’t get as many tips—it affects our job as managers too because our owners are wondering why numbers are down.”
Much of the same rings true for Liberty Kitchen, as the resulting decline in foot traffic has forced Schrumpf and co-owner Jaime Greene to work on an abridged menu as well as diminish their workforce.
“A lot of our core items are still there, but simply due to the number of staff it takes to prepare and taking into consideration the amount of product you have to order, we’ve basically had to cut our menu in half,” he said.
Adding to the problem is the enormous “Road closed to through traffic” sign prominent as one passes by Wakefield on Golf Drive.
“It’s a big old sign where people view it as “I can’t go down this road’,” Pushkin said. “We’re looking into putting up signs around the neighborhood alerting folks that we are still open and they can come on through.”
Liberty Kitchen has taken proactive attempts to address any confusion, posting at least five signs around the neighborhood so as to help patrons navigate the ever-changing routes, which can vary based on the construction schedule at a given time and change the accessibility of Alba Road.
“You can access it from one side but not the other, so traffic flow there has been diminished, and it’s much of the same on Alba,” Schrumpf said. “One side or the other will always be closed—there’s never any kind of forewarning about what their plans are.”
What does the future hold?
Retaining returning customers remains a priority; but Pushkin and Hernandez also harbor a fear of the inconvenience preventing them from growing their customer base.
“We’ve got new customers coming in for the first time not knowing because they don’t see the road,” Pushkin said. “I can only imagine someone trying to get here before saying ‘I’m never going back there again.”
Pushkin said housing volleyball courts, as well as standing business with the Houston Sports Social Club, has managed to keep them afloat; but the time has come for answers. In response, Reed noted that due to the complete overhaul nature of the project — which is slated for a July 2018 completion — a large amount of time simply must be invested, and said the temporary inconvenience will be worth it.
“We want to do everything we can to help improve the infrastructure so it’s better for everyone in the future,” she said. “Having to put in these types of drainage systems and redoing the paving, curbs and sidewalks are a bit of an annoyance, but if it can help protect businesses from structural flooding that’s a good goal. We just have to remind them there is a light.”