Piles of gravel and stacks of sewer pipe are gone, the roadway is freshly paved and by the end of this week, the no-parking signs and orange barrels will be removed.
The $10 million reconstruction of East Johnson Street replaced 130-year-old water mains, smoothed out the ride for thousands of eastbound commuters and gave the busy thoroughfare a new look. But the project also readies the Near East Side neighborhood for what is happening a few blocks away.
East Washington Avenue is booming with new businesses, residents and proposed projects including a Festival Foods grocery store and hundreds of new apartments. That leaves the East Johnson Street businesses that endured and survived this year’s road construction between North Butler and North Baldwin streets not only with room for sidewalk cafes but in an ideal position for growth.
“This is going to be prime real estate now that we have this nice street out here,” said Gwen Johnson, co-owner of Johnson Public House, 908 East Johnson St. “It’s going to be a hotbed of creative energy. It’s really going to help us out.”
To celebrate the end of construction, introduce the changes and bring customers to the business district, Yelp has organized Jam on Johnson. A collaboration with the Tenney-Lapham Neighborhood Association, Next Door Brewing Co. and the newly formed Capitol East Business Association, made up of businesses along the East Johnson Street corridor.
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The event, from 4 to 8 p.m. Friday, will include street musicians and businesses offering special discounts, free food and drink samples. Next Door Brewing Co. will offer beer samples at five businesses while Salvatore’s Tomato Pies, scheduled to open later this month at 912 E. Johnson St., will serve pizza samples at Wilke Chiropractic, a block to the east.
At U-Frame-It, 857 E. Johnson St., a section of orange plastic construction fencing will be used to show off nearly 100 photos of the neighborhood taken over the course of the street construction project, which started in spring. Kelli Hoppmann, who has worked at the shop at North Paterson and East Johnson streets for 20 years, said there were challenging days, parking problems and dust that would drift into the shop that meant more cleaning than usual. In the long run, however, the project will benefit the neighborhood.
“The community really turned out for us, and we appreciate that,” Hoppmann said of the construction obstacles. “I think Johnson Street is going to be bigger and better than ever.”
The street construction project included replacing 7,000 feet of large water main pipe, and replacing or upgrading other buried utilities. Above ground, there are bike lanes, new street lamps, traffic signals and several sidewalk “bump outs” that will allow for more outdoor seating for restaurants and cafes.
Gwen Johnson and her husband, Kyle, opened their 1,200-square-foot Johnson Public House coffee shop and restaurant in 2011 and will now have 20 extra outdoor seats and a new pizza place next door. “It was stressful,” Kyle Johnson said of the construction. “You really had to step back and re-evaluate your business. It was tough and everybody felt it to an extent, but this whole neighborhood rallied around and supported us.”