Downtown mall renovation project delayed

Delays in the design process will delay construction that was slated to begin in October on the Baltimore Street pedestrian mall.

CUMBERLAND — Delays in the design process will delay construction that was slated to begin in October on the Baltimore Street pedestrian mall.

“Nothing was really red-flagged” by the State Highway Administration in the design plans that have been submitted for review thus far, Cumberland Economic Development Corp. executive director Paul Kelly said Tuesday.

However, the process is running a little behind. Currently, the drawings are about 70% complete. They’re expected to be 90% finished by mid-June, Kelly said.

Construction will likely begin early next year.

The project, which is expected to cost more than $9 million, includes replacement of aging underground utility lines and adding one-way traffic on Baltimore Street through the pedestrian mall.

The delay was caused by the adjustments that needed to be made along the way, Kelly said, noting that the October projection for construction beginning was always an optimistic one.

They’d projected a best-case scenario of 90% drawings by the end of February or early March, which Kelly said has “pushed us about three and a half months farther back in terms of actually undertaking construction.”

However, the delay isn't as lengthy as it appears, he said.

“But there’s a big caveat to that,” Kelly said. “… You have to factor in the actual construction cycle. The earliest in theory that we could’ve began construction was … late October or early November, in that realm. So if you push the schedule much at all you’re in the freeze of December, January, February.”

In terms of moving forward, Kelly said the delay on the plans would have them stand to lose “at most 30 days, which would not set the project behind at all.”

Because of the delay with the designs, he said, “it’s more realistic to start as soon as you can in 2021,” likely in March after the worst of the cold weather has passed, based on what he’s been told by city engineering employees.

“Everything starts to freeze, and we’re digging down deep and you can’t have water mains exposed,” Kelly said.

They’re trying to evaluate the depth of economic impact of COVID-related shutdowns on the local business community, Kelly said, and “assess how much more they can recover between now and when we start construction.”

Project funding that's already been received will not be affected by the delay, Kelly said.

The renovation is “for the city as a whole, and we don’t want to act to the detriment of the businesses while doing that,” Kelly said.

Mayor Ray Morriss said during a Downtown Development Commission meeting Tuesday that when he first learned of the delay, he thought “maybe it was a little of a blessing with everything we’re going through right now.”

“If we had started in October, maybe November, we would have cut into the holiday season this year for the downtown businesses,” Morriss said. "With everything that’s happened, obviously right now they’re not on firm footing. By being able to stay open through that period, I think that will be good for them to financially stabilize their businesses.”

He also noted that the creativity that local restaurants have used to adapt to COVID-19 closures of their dining rooms could serve them well when construction does begin.

“I’m hopeful that may be a little bit of a blessing we have from this and that we’ve learned some different ways of doing things,” Morriss said. “It’ll be an interesting time as we work our way through this process to get everything done.”

Follow staff writer Lindsay Renner-Wood on Twitter @LindsayRenWood.

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