King Street businesses speak out on construction

By Emily Hoover |

Photographs by Phillip C. Sunkel IV

For Joe Tringali, owner of Carmelo’s Marketplace, the drainage repair construction on King and Malaga streets has made his store a little less convenient this winter.

“Originally when the construction began [on Jan. 10], [Florida Department of Transportation] told me they were leaving one road open,” Tringali said. “But they decided to knock [Malaga Street] out, left me a little driveway. We were devastated, believe me.”

Tringali said that for the first three weeks of construction, which blocked both King Street and Malaga Street, his business, which serves as a gas station, convenience store and restaurant, felt the effects.

“We were down 50 percent for the first three weeks,” he said. “People were coming to the store in bunches, they would follow and come in only if they saw other people going in. Our gas customers are where we’re hurting the most, because we’re an in-and-out convenient thing.”

George Chryssaidis, owner of Georgie’s Diner on Malaga Street, said his business has experienced similar losses during construction.

“We lost 40 to 50 percent of our business [during the first three weeks],” he said. “The work supervisors [on the construction site] tried to do the best they could for us. But it’ll be over in a month, then we don’t have to worry about it.”

According to a press release from FDOT, the roadway drainage project, which costs $577,000, will replace the old drainage system “with a new system that includes replacing pipes beneath King Street [through] a new backflow prevention structure at the San Sebastian River,” located by the San Sebastian Winery.

“It’s needed,” said Gerald Purtlebaugh, who works for the winery as an attendant. “They’ve got to fix it. Every time it rains, it floods.”

Purtlebaugh said although San Sebastian Winery has not significantly lost business during construction—they are usually slow during the winter—businesses like Carmelo’s face trouble because of limited room.

“It’s better now that [the construction] has moved,” he said. “Now that the intersection [for Malaga and King streets] is open, you can just go straight across without the detour.”

Tringali agrees.

“Now that it’s moved, business is picking up right away,” he said. “We’re only down 10 percent from what we normally do.”

While Lynne Doten, owner of Rembrandtz Gifts, said she is appreciative that “our flood problem is being addressed at last,” she said the detour, created by FDOT, is not user-friendly.

“They should guide people on a more direct course,” Doten said. “Rather than having people turn right at Malaga, people are directed all the way north to Castillo Drive, then right onto Avenida Menendez, then right on King Street, taking people three miles out of their way, and on a 20 minute—at least—detour for no reason.”

She said the detour increases traffic on West Castillo Drive and San Marco Blvd. and creates “a traffic jam” for King Street westbound traffic.

However, Sandra Mancil, project spokesperson for FDOT, said she has not received complaints from businesses.

“We haven’t had any complaints in this office,” she said. “People are looking forward to having the project done—the flooding improved. One [business] in particular asked for additional signage.”

FDOT has placed signs, which read: “Businesses open during construction” on both Malaga Street and King Street.

Although Mancil said the project was originally scheduled for September 2010, she said businesses suggested postponing construction until after the holiday season.

Purtlebaugh said he is glad FDOT had a meeting with businesses before beginning construction.

“During the slow season, it doesn’t hurt as much,” he said. “If they’d done it during summer or December, it would have affected us.”

Despite losses in revenue, Tringali said downtown customers have been consistent.

“Walking at college is the norm,” he said, “so Flagler College customers—some live in the [Florida East Coast Railway] dorms—haven’t been affected. Flagler customers are our bread and butter and we appreciate the opportunity to serve them.”

Chryssaidis, who said Georgie’s is still down 20 percent, agrees.

“That’s what keeps us going, our regulars,” he said, “and kids from the college.”

While Tringali said some St. Augustine residents fear the project is not going to work since “it’s been flooding for 40 years,” Mancil said construction is on schedule.

“It’s been going well for such a congested area,” she said. “We’re in our second phase—installing the structure, the backflow prevention area at San Sebastian [River.]”

“It’s a step in the right direction,” Tringali said. “They’ve got the infrastructure down, but the system is not working at all now [in the rain]. It’s actually worse, since it’s blocking the river. It won’t work until it’s complete.”

FDOT expects to complete the project in the spring, “around April,” Mancil said. Future FDOT projects, she said, include more drainage pipe work on Malaga Street.

[FDOT and the City of St. Augustine] have a right to improve the welfare of the public,” Tringali said, “even if it affects you, the business. I try to tell my customers: it’s a hard time. I really appreciate your business.”

2011 Gargoyle Anthology Award Winner: Gold Award for News Writing

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