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Lac La Biche Chamber boss has concerns on next downtown dig

Downtown streets to be blocked off as April 23 begins next construction phase

LAC LA BICHE - With the next phase of the three-year, $32.5 million Main Street Revitalization Project set to begin on April 23, Julia Hiron, the new president of the Lac La Biche and District Chamber of Commerce, says businesses in this year’s affected area have been struggling with limited or mixed messages prior to the startup. 

While work was first slated to start in May, plans changed to April 15, but recently, this was upped to April 23. An updated information section is now visible on the Lac La Biche County website. This year’s segment of the project is expected to affect a one-block section of the roadway between 102 Street at Value Drugs to 101 Street at the Alberta Treasury Branch.   

“Those who were anticipating it starting in May now have to prepare for it starting the end of April,” Hiron told the Lac La Biche Post newsroom at the end of last week.  

Prior to the resumption of work on the Main Street makeover, Lac La Biche County was supposed to host an open house with business owners in February, but that event was cancelled. Hiron said businesses were provided with brochures stating that construction was going to begin in May, 2024, but were not informed that it would actually be getting underway earlier than initially planned.  

“There was no notice to anyone,” she said, prior to electronic road signs being set up with date information about two weeks ago. 

Changing the start dates of construction has been frustrating for businesses, Hiron says, as owners have even less time to get ready. According to the Chamber boss, the situation was no different last year when businesses in the first stage of the downtown project-from 103 Street to 102 Street- found themselves with little notice-in the midst of a construction zone surrounded by orange fences.   

“We knew that it was coming and then it just ended up happening,” she stated. “If you’ve been given a week or a month or whatever it is to prepare for something, and somebody now takes away three of those weeks in a month, and you’ve got one week to prepare…I don’t care what business you’re in…I mean it affects all of that.” 

Regarding how the next phase of construction will directly affect the 30 businesses locations inside the construction zone, Hiron says one of the largest issues continues to be the loss of front-door customer access. She says that for many of those local establishments, there is little in the way of rear access. This is especially true for restaurants, as patrons simply can’t walk in through the kitchen to reach the dining area.  

Merchants have brought forward many concerns-especially a drop in traffic, revenue, and sales due to the erection of construction fences that will completely block off the street and much of the sidewalks in the construction zone. There is a concern, Hiron said, that with little or no foot traffic to Main Street establishments, business owners fear that more customers will end up taking their business elsewhere.  

Lessons learned 

Despite what looks like another rocky start to the downtown project that will replace aging cast iron utility pipes and upgrade surface features of the road and sidwalk, Hiron is hopeful that lessons have been learned from the first year of construction. She hopes that as the project rolls out, more details and assistance will be given to affected businesses. 

“That’s a huge part of the community,” she said.  

Last year’s construction project ran from April to the end of November. Due to a smaller area of work, this year’s downtown construction is expected to be complete in a shorter timeframe. 

The three-year Main Street Revitalization project was first approved by Lac La Biche County council in 2018 with an estimated $16 million price tag. Two years later, the construction began with the replacement of underground utility pipes, new sidewalks, and new road paving on the western portion of Main Street. Upgrades were also made to the roadside Richard Devonian Park. The price tag increased to more than $34 million as last year’s construction phase increased. 

Construction in 2025, the final year of the project, will upgrade an area from 101 Street at the downtown ATB branch to the entrance to the Lac La Biche Recreation Grounds and McAfthur Park. That area is also getting a makeover – with a $7 million approved budget –over the next two years. 

Chris McGarry

About the Author: Chris McGarry

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