Tennyson Street businesses creating promotions to offset disruptive construction

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While Tennyson Street and Berkeley District business owners once saw themselves as the Denver shopping district family's forgotten children, they're now feeling some love. The City of Denver and Xcel, who they accuse of badly mismanaging a construction project, are helping fund a series of promotions reminding people that businesses on Tennyson remain open while the street is being beautified.

Northwest Denver City Councilwoman Susan Shepherd and At-Large Councilwoman Robin Kniech have partnered with the Berkeley District Merchants Association (BDMA) to create a number of promotions and events that will help drive business to Tennyson Street while the street is under construction. Right now, the BDMA is working on creating posters and lawn signs, recruiting sponsors and planning an October 15 block party featuring music and many family-friendly activities. Frickey says she wants to have all promotional material completed by the second week of September.

"With the construction and everything going on down here, we really needed to start focusing more on marketing ourselves better," notes Tracy Frickey, owner of MODesTEA, a loose-leaf tea store at 3832 Tennyson, and also a member of the BDMA Board of Directors.

Xcel spokesman Mark Stutz says the company has donated an undisclosed amount of money to help fund the promotions. He also says Xcel has finished burying its gas lines deeper in the street -- a major sticking point in the construction -- and is now focusing on wiring new street lights.

Construction on the street, which some business owners say started as early as January, has taken over more driving, parking and walking space than originally planned, and it's done so for longer periods of time. Many merchants are still worried about going out of business while some already have -- The Hole being the most recent.

And while the road might have been significantly bumpier than originally planned, it is still set to take the merchants to the same place.

"The majority of the roadwork will be complete by the middle of next week, opening Tennyson for travel and parking," says Christine Downs, Marketing and Communications Coordinator for Denver Public Works. "There will still be work on the sidewalks and some work in the road, but this shouldn't require major detours. The roadway and sidewalks adjacent to businesses will be finished in time for holiday shopping (Thanksgiving 2011), pending cooperating weather."

Frickey recently met with Shepherd and the Denver Office of Economic Development (OED) to discuss partnering with other organizations around town such as the Mile High Business Alliance, B-Cycle, Operation Walk Denver and others. She says the OED also gave the BDMA money for the promotions.

"I hesitate to compliment city employees, but I have to commend them," Frickey says. "They really pulled this all together and found the right people."

The BDMA is in talks with the Mile High Business Association to have Tennyson Street serve as the launching point for Denver's Buy Local week at the end of November. The BDMA will also create Friends of Berkeley discount cards that will offer people deals at participating businesses.

Today, the northbound lane of Tennyson is still closed for large stretches and business owners surely aren't resting soundly. The entire project is a nasty patch of weather away from stretching into the holiday shopping season, which is what business owners feared the most.

"My big concern is Black Friday," says Frickey. "That's a big shopping day, but it's not like the sidewalks are going to be torn up. There will probably be one section that is going to be impacted, but I just don't think it's going to be of a huge magnitude. The next month is going to be very telling."

Frickey says Concrete Works, which has been contracted by the city to re-work the street and sidewalks, has told her all the concrete will be poured by November 1. After that, all that's left is installing benches, bike racks, planter beds and artwork.

"The city understands this project has been impactful to local business owners on Tennyson and we have been working with them to minimize that impact as much as possible," Downs says. "The city has three employees dedicated to the project; the contractor has a dedicated project manager and inspector on site; and the sub-contractor has a dedicated foreman on site."

Even with the outside support Tennyson business owners are now receiving, the promotions will only be fully successful if construction doesn't hit any more snags.

"I think we're cautiously optimistic that they will be done when they say they will be done," says Shannon Piserchio, owner of the Bookery Nook at 4280 Tennyson. "Every day is different. Some days will be good and some days it's like a ghost town."

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