The renovation of Public Square is expected to be complete this spring after work began last August and work to upgrade traffic signals at 55 intersections is expected to be done by April 1999.
In May 1999 Washington and Franklin streets will be resurfaced from Potomac Street to Cannon Avenue. Sidewalks in those areas and possibly more will be replaced. The work is expected to be done by that winter.
"There's nothing wrong with my sidewalks. Whether they're new or old it's not going to attract more people," said Charlene Gearhart, owner of Charlene's Hair Gallery at 16 E. Washington St.
"If it's not one thing, it's another. The biggest thing they need to worry about is to keep the businesses they have here," Gearhart said.
She said that will become difficult if downtown keeps getting torn up.
Gearhart said she wouldn't have remained downtown if she didn't own the building housing the salon.
Bridal shop owner Jane Anderson said she doesn't want downtown torn up again.
"This has been awful for a lot of people," she said.
Anderson said she lost a parking space in front of her store for about eight months during the square renovation. If they do replace sidewalks, Anderson said she prefers concrete since brick ices up faster.
City Engineer Bruce Johnston said crews will do everything they can to keep hassles to a minimum. Replacing sidewalks in front of a store is expected to take about two days per store and access will be maintained to the businesses, he said.
Jerry Lidie, owner of Jerry's Quality Used Appliances & Furniture at 32 E. Washington St., said he'd rather see more police patrols discouraging people from hanging out in the alleys and parking lots.
"I think that would make the people in this area feel safer," Lidie said.
Bill Clowser, co-owner of Bikle's Ski Shop, said the improvements will help downtown's atmosphere.
"People perceive downtown as being dark and dangerous, and it's hardly that," he said.
Harry Grandinett, owner of Round the Square restaurant on Public Square, said downtown needs sprucing up.
As the owner of a business that suffered during the square renovation, Grandinett said the improvements are sure to affect downtown merchants in the short term.
"But in the long run I think it will be a good and healthy thing for downtown," he said.
Grandinett said he noticed an immediate increase in business after city officials had the nearby North Potomac Street parking lot enlarged. Parking needs to continue being expanded, he said.
City Council members are concerned about downtown merchants facing further disruptions. The city is applying for state funding to replace several additional sidewalks downtown, but members haven't decided whether to do the project if they get the money.
Councilman J. Wallace McClure, who owns McClure's Piano Shop and 'Round Town Movers, said downtown merchants need a break. To do it back to back with the square is too much disruption, he said.
Councilwoman Susan Saum-Wicklein said replacing sidewalks is a nice public amenity, but is disruptive and probably won't attract more people downtown.
"The vibrancy of the downtown will be enhanced when we get more people coming downtown to utilize services and businesses," said Saum-Wicklein, who runs Saum's Jewelers on Public Square.
"It's our responsibility to be more aggressive" in recruiting businesses downtown, make whatever commitments are needed to get them here and encourage existing businesses to expand, the councilwoman said.
"We're still struggling for our identity," Saum-Wicklein said.
The proposed arts and entertainment district in the first block of South Potomac Street is only a part of that identity, she said.