Old street gets a makeover

October 07, 2004|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

Hours after cars and trucks began rumbling down historic West Street in Annapolis again yesterday, Alexandria Poole began hearing the refrain from customers at the 49 West coffee shop.

"People were saying they missed having the street to themselves," said Poole, 22, a barista at the shop. "Now they're dodging cars and trucks."

Annapolis officials gathered yesterday morning to celebrate the reopening of a one-block stretch of West Street after six months of construction, but afterward a funny thing happened.

Some say they preferred having the street closed, saying it evoked an authentic 18th-century feel to a street that has long led to Church Circle and the governor's mansion.

Mayor Ellen O. Moyer said she has heard from people who said they liked the feel of having the street open to pedestrians, especially now that it's covered with brand-new bricks in a herringbone pattern.

But Moyer said the city can't close a primary route into the capital city.

"We can close it from time to time for special events," Moyer said, but added, referring to a permanent closure, "That's not going to happen."

With yesterday's ceremony, city officials marked the completion of a $25 million, multiyear effort to revitalize West Street between Church Circle and Spa Road.

`Now's the time'

Covering the well-traveled street with brick was Moyer's idea. When she realized that the city's plans called for repaving the street with asphalt, she said she asked, "Why aren't we bricking it? Now's the time, not in 15 years."

When construction started last spring, no one was thrilled with the pounding of jackhammers and the tall fence that went up around the dusty work site.

Shopkeepers and cafe owners said they feared business would drop off during construction, but merchants huddled to hold festivals and other events to keep the street thriving.

"This completely symbolizes the way West Street has come together," said Bob Agee, the city administrator.

Courteous crew

City officials pushed the contractor to finish the project in time for this month's sailboat and powerboat shows, which draw thousands to the city.

The six-day-a-week schedule often called for men to work up to 18 hours a day.

Annapolis officials and residents praised not only their work ethic but also their courtesy, which extended to escorting fragile or elderly walkers through the site.

"We were watchful because we were in front of people's livelihoods," said Steve Salehi, head of Cheverly-based Civil Construction, which won the $1.7 million bid.

The company earned a $120,000 bonus for finishing ahead of schedule.

The project creates a continuous brick roadway that runs up Main Street, around Church Circle and onto West Street.

But the new stretch has a distinctive feature: the herringbone pattern, in which the bricks are laid in slanted angles.

The pattern was chosen by the city's Historic Preservation Commission in keeping with what Moyer called the city's "English personality and character."

"Tweedy," remarked Robert P. Duckworth, clerk of the Anne Arundel County Circuit Court and a Republican candidate for Congress.

After yesterday's event, former Gov. Parris N. Glendening walked by and complimented Moyer on the project.

He said he often cites the rebirth of West Street as a national example of public improvements spurring private investment.

Said Glendening: "I talk about this all the time."

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