Doing business along State Road A1A in Flagler Beach is a double-edged sword. It is a focal zone of business activity. It is also the focal zone of storms. When hurricanes or even lesser storms damage the road, road closures or detours follow. And when the state Department of Transportation descends to do repairs, closures or detours follow again.
It’s two and a half years since Hurricane Matthew sawed up the Flagler coast, offshore enough not to demolish the town but close enough to devour a 1.3-mile section of A1A. That segment closed entirely for a few months as emergency repairs put two lanes back together again quickly, though for restaurants and other businesses along the road, the hurt was deep: with vehicular traffic rerouted to Central Avenue, they had to re-route their own business entrances to that avenue, however and wherever they could. It helped, but businesses paid a heavy price in lost patronage for weeks.
Hurricane Irma barreled through less than a year and a half ago and shut down the entire barrier island for a few days, causing another, less severe economic shock.
For a change, 2018 was calmer, weather-wise, but 2019 may prove to be the most challenging year yet for the businesses along A1A: the Transportation Department is about to begin reconstruction of that damaged section of A1A on the south side, and to build a seawall on the north side. The projects are expected to stretch over 300 days. Though A1A will not be shut down at any point, there will be diversions or detours for traffic from certain directions in given segments, depending on the progress of the projects.
Despite what should remain at least a partially open road, the detours and the construction have A1A businesses concerned about the perception that they will be less accessible. They want to send the message that they will be very much open for business, just as the rest of town will be. To that end, Chamber of Commerce officials are working on a coordinated campaign with businesses now and in coming months to continually send the message that A1A is “open for business.”
“I remember when the road washed away here during the hurricanes, how badly it affected the businesses, so I wanted to make sure we were in front of the road construction and we’re not calling them closures,” says Cindy Dalecki, who is playing up the word “detours” instead. Dalecki chairs the Flagler Beach Area Council and was among the officials, transportation department representatives and almost a dozen businesses gathered at Ripple Coworking on A1A last week for a brainstorming meeting on what’s ahead and how to convey the moist inviting messages to the public.
“People coming from Daytona up to St. Augustine, or St., Augustine through to wherever, Miami, we want to make sure that they know it is open when they see all these barriers,” Dalecki said.
The Flagler Chamber of Commerce’s Robbin Wilson, who organized the meeting with Dalecki, even sees an opportunity with the campaign: She says the “open for business” theme can be paired with “The New Flagler Beach” theme–a new and what the transportation department projects to be a much enhanced A1A being in itself a future attraction: the new segment at the south end of town, from 9th Street south, will eventually be a broader, greener two-lane highway, divided by a median that will also serve as a drainage system.
But the chamber is urging businesses and other community leaders to be engaged in the campaign–not just in words or ideas, but monetarily, if necessary, assuming the campaign would have an advertising component. “This is not a one-man or woman show,” says Jorge Gutierrez, the chamber’s president. “I can tell you, the chamber is committed to do it.”
John Lulgjuraj, owner of Oceanside restaurant, is bracing for the year ahead with stepped up marketing, but he hopes to see more involvement from local businesses–and more help from local governments. “Something needs to happen because there is zero communication across the board with the businesses,” he said. “You get five or six of the same people that go to every single meeting.”
Matt Dunn, the county’s tourism director, says government has been helping: his agency advertises heavily to attract tourists to Flagler, but local businesses don’t necessarily see the advertising because it’s done out of the county, if not out of the state. And the $5 million spent to carry out the emergency repairs in November 2016 and the $22 million about to be spent on reconstruction are unquestionably government help.
There are other concerns and other things to tack on to the campaign, beside the message that Oceanshore Boulevard (A1A’s othjer name) is open for business: Flagler Beach Police Chief Matt Doughney, who was also at last week’s meeting, says “Central Avenue is going to be the new A1A, and nobody’s talked about what’s going to happen on that road.” Doughney says Central Avenue residents live there because they made a choice not to be on a thoroughfare like A1A, but they’ll be presented with the unavoidable fact that for just about a year, their street will carry traffic intended for a highway. Flagler Beach police is not getting extra help from the transportation department to handle the extra policing burden.
Doughney’s message: “We want you here, we’re open, but please: respect the roadways you’re on.” He said he doesn’t want his troops to write tickets, but he wants drivers to adapt to the detour’s requirements, the slower speed zones, the extra caution required on residential avenues.
“We can’t force people to be respectful,” the transportation department’s Jessica Ottaviano, one of three DOT officials at the meeting, said. While the state agency can;t offer manpower to help with policing, it will provide signage, though that’s seen as the least it can, and must, do: it’s a matter of safety. Ottaviano was not much more encouraging than that: “We don’t know how driver’s behavior is going to be until it happens,” she said. “We need people to be our eyes and ears.”
What the transportation department will do is provide weekly updates on construction–what segment will be affected each coming week, what drivers may expect.
The three-pronged, $22.4 million project will have different driving patterns depending on the location.
For the nearly 1.5-mile segment of A1A that will be completely reconstructed at the south end of town, from South 9th to South 22nd Street, the road will be closed to southbound traffic “for much of the construction,” the transportation department says, with traffic detoured to Central. Northbound traffic will remain on A1A throughout, and a pedestrian walkway will be maintained throughout. Several beach-access walkovers will be affected (meaning closed) during construction.
For a four-block segment from South 22nd to South 28th Street, the road itself won’t be worked on, but it will be reduced to a single lane with flagmen during daylight as work on the dunes is carried out.
The third segment is at the north end of town, from North 18th Street to Osprey Drive, where DOT will be building a seawall. There, too, the road will be reduced to a single lane, with flagging. Work will take place during the day.
Construction begins Jan. 21. Residents and businesses may keep up with updates through FlaglerLive’s Daily Briefing, and through cflroads.com.