Burlingame Avenue is receiving a host of upgrades designed to beautify the already tony shopping area, as well as make the street safer and friendlier for pedestrians. But some merchants are grumbling about the impact street construction is having on their businesses.
The changes include streetlights, furniture, landscaping and bulb-out curb extensions at intersections. Because angled parking spaces will be replaced by parallel parking, the city will be able to increase sidewalk area by 50 percent. Some restaurants will use the extra space to offer al fresco dining.
However, some business owners say parking problems and street closures have caused their customers to go elsewhere. Ben Nielsen's Copenhagen Bakery is on Burlingame Avenue's 1200 block, which is currently closed to traffic and filled with orange cones, safety barricades and heavy machinery. Nielsen said his customers are frustrated because they can't find parking. He said the construction, which began in May, is taking too long. Nielsen said business is down by about one-third, and this has affected his ability to be a job creator.
"We always have a small turnover because we hire a lot of young people who are in school," Nielsen said, "but when people have left recently, we haven't replaced them like we normally would."
However, some complaints from merchants are based on false assumptions. One restaurant owner, who asked not to be named, believed parking spaces were being replaced with parklets, and that 100 parking spaces were being eliminated. Public Works Department Director Syed Murtuza said the street will lose only ten parking spaces, and that no parklets are being installed. The city recently put in new parking spaces around the neighborhood, he added, and is considering the addition of a new parking structure.
Vice Mayor Michael Brownrigg said major work would have been required even without the upgrades, because the street is 50 years old with sewer lines twice that age, and both are badly in need of replacement. He said it only made sense to add beautification to the process.
"We had a chance to rebuild it better than it was before, kind of like 'The Six Million Dollar Man,'" he said.
Burlingame Avenue landlords are in favor of the upgrades, Brownrigg said, enough so that they're paying for 25 percent of the $16 million project. He said the rest of the funds are coming from higher parking meter fees and stormwater and sewer bonds.
In the long run, Brownrigg believes merchants will see increased revenues. He cited Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade as an example, pointing out that every public dollar spent on that project lead to $28 of private investment, because local merchants saw such an uptick in business when the promenade was finished. He said that Burlingame's project will probably be done by this time next year.
Some merchants are taking it all in stride. Sole Desire Shoes manager Maria Alcazar said business has slowed a little, but her store is not hurting.
Peet's Coffee & Tea manager Kyle Tannous acknowledged some short-term loss of revenue, but said, "I think in the long term, it will definitely help our business."
An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Copenhagen Bakery co-owner Ben Nielsen.
Burlingame’s countless parking lots — eyesores that cover nearly half the downtown’s surface area — could soon become blank slates for creative developers.