Tony Saydi is thrilled the construction equipment is gone from the front of his sub shop, as customers can finally enter his parking lot without navigating a minefield of debris.
But now that the is finally complete, the owner of is asking when new business is going to follow the new plantings and sidewalks to the area.
“We’re glad it’s over. It looks nice. But our business is the same,” said Saydi, who has been in the location at the corner of Cleveland Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue for 23 years.
“I wish the city would listen to us," he said. "If they would put a sign at the corner of Gulf to Bay … directing people to the beach through downtown, maybe more people would come this way. The locals know about us, but the tourists don’t.”
Many merchants Clearwater Patch spoke with regarding the streetscaping project and the overall development of the downtown district are also wondering, "What’s next?"
Mark Miller of said the completion of the project has meant a lot more traffic is passing through the area. But he also credits an uptick in the economy as one reason why he hopes business will improve.
“Overall, the economy is getting better, so I pray it keeps going," Miller said. "If we made it through this, we can survive anything.”
Downtown, where artwork in the medians and new signs have improved the overall look of the district, merchants are pleased with the streetscaping but openly wonder when the area will begin to experience an economic boom.
Richard Johnson, owner of the recently opened Metro 528 Grill, expressed concern over whether he will be able to recoup his sizeable investment in the property if more people don’t frequent the area.
“The streetscaping is OK, but it’s not easy on Cleveland Street, especially on this end," Johnson said. "When people leave the Winter (the dolphin) exhibit, they come a little ways up the street, see all the empty buildings, and turn right back around and go home.”
Johnson, who opened his restaurant less than a month ago, believes the city needs to offer business owners incentives to move into some of the many vacant storefronts that dot the downtown district.
“The city has spent a tremendous amount on sidewalks and improvements, but it still looks like bombed-out Berlin with a nice strip down the middle," he said. "They have to offer incentives to get more retail here. You need a cross section of interesting things, not just restaurants and cafes.”
When asked what needs to be done to help businesses in the area be successful, Johnson was candid:
“If the city can do something big, maybe things will get better. Because people won’t come if you’ve only got 20 percent of the buildings occupied, no matter how much streetscaping you do.”