Business owners are frustrated by East Side construction delays
The completion date for the 2017 voter-approved North New Braunfels Street Bond project on San Antonio’s East Side has been delayed by two months, causing frustration in business communities along the corridor.
North New Braunfels, from Burleson Street down East Houston Street, has been a construction zone since November 2021 and was due to be completed this month, but city officials say difficult working conditions, utility problems and the weather have delayed the project.
Construction began on the left side of the corridor toward I-35 but shifted to the right side this year, causing problems for small business owners who say business has been negatively impacted for months.
Construction is now expected to be completed in July.
“This causes a lot of problems for people in need [here] who have stores,” said Robert Aguilar, a manager at Security Loan Company, a lender and pawn shop on the 1000 block of North New Braunfels Street. “If they know there’s going to be a delay, they need to do something. Two months? That can make or break success. They could go out of business because of that.”
There are only three parking spots available for customers picking up a pie at Tank’s Pizza, one of which is restricted to drivers with a disability card. Two blocks down at the Security Loan Company, half of the parking lot is closed due to construction, leaving four non-handicap accessible parking spaces for buyers.
“It hurts us tremendously,” Aguilar said. “It hurts everything – the business as a whole.” … Sometimes they close Lamar Street and Gabriel Street. It might not last all day, but it hurts when they do.”
During the day, construction workers wearing hard hats and neon vests drill concrete into the turn lane in the middle of the street and sidewalks. Some hold stop signs, others drive trucks through the zone with blue lights flashing.
Oncoming traffic is directed by signals on orange and white barricades, allowing traffic to flow through.
“For the past three months, the machines have been right outside our building, blocking businesses,” said Nnika Cleaver, owner of Black Business San Antonio, a networking hub and workspace for black-owned businesses next to Tank’s Pizza.
“There is no parking and often, [customers] “I can barely get to our door,” she said.
First, the construction delays are due to supply problems related to old pipes, said Razi Hosseini, director of the city’s public works department. Then oncoming traffic restricted the space in which the project contractor could work. Bad weather has recently led to delays, he said.
“On certain days, a contractor could either not work or not work as actively as he wanted to work,” Hosseini said. “[The] The contractor has increased their resources to expedite the work as much as possible, but contractually it is due at the end of May.”
The contractor, EZ Bel Construction, LLC., will be fined $1,150 per day by the City of San Antonio if construction is delayed beyond the original contract date, under the City’s Responsible Bidders Ordinance.
Hosseini said the fines would go back into the project. EZ Bel Construction did not respond to requests for comment.
Hosseini said the city does not have an in-house contractor to complete large bond projects and the majority of projects are being completed by city-appointed contractors.
“We are very vigilant about our impact on the community and the traveling audience,” he said, adding that any delay will be communicated to business owners on a bi-weekly or weekly basis, as appropriate. That communication is done via email or through the city’s outreach specialists, who serve as contacts for business owners, he said.
But Aguilar said he wasn’t aware the project was pushed back to July.
“They never inform us. They’ve never come in and told us, ‘Hey, it’s going to take longer.’ Or email or call, nothing,” he said. “You have to watch out for the companies.”
In January, the City Council approved grants to help entrepreneurs who have lost income due to construction across the city. Applications for the $10,000-$35,000 grants were open in February and were available to business owners in 15 corridors under construction, including North St. Mary’s Street and Broadway and along North New Braunfels.
Applicants would need to demonstrate a loss of $10,000 or more since 2021 to be eligible for the grant, said Ana Bradshaw, deputy director of the city’s economic development department.
Submitted applications are still being reviewed and should be completed next week, Bradshaw said. All applicants will be notified of their status by June 2, as indicated on the scholarship website timeline.
District 2 City Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez said after the council approved the building grant program, which was funded by Covid-era ARPA dollars, his office and economic development staff ran through the North New Braunfels neighborhood to meet businesses about the opportunity to inform.
“We got in touch really aggressively because I wanted to make sure North New Braunfels was covered,” McKee-Rodriguez said.
Tank’s Pizza also hosted a workshop event on the grants, he said.
The city’s economic development department received 28 submitted applications from business owners on North New Braunfels Street, McKee-Rodriguez and Bradshaw said.
“I am also frustrated by a two-month delay. We don’t want a business to close,” McKee-Rodriguez said, comparing the impact of construction on business owners to the impact of gentrification in the same neighborhoods.
Bradshaw said that while the city’s economic development office cannot speed up construction, it is doing its part to alleviate the complications business owners face.
“Our business outreach specialists are in the hallways regularly talking to companies,” said Bradshaw. “A lot of companies just contact us directly if there is an issue or something to make sure we provide them with the resources they need or pass information on to public works companies.”
The business development bureau is also reaching out to businesses on roads that are about to be built, she said, and providing incentives for early completion of projects for contractors.
“We’re really looking to the future to mitigate the impact, so we’re not in a situation like this,” Bradshaw said. “We want people to know that they are still open and that these small businesses need support.”
McKee-Rodriguez said the city should focus on the future, explaining that a sustainable solution — one that doesn’t depend on ARPA funding — is needed to support businesses negatively impacted by construction. He added that he would like to bring together a group of business owners affected by this build or future projects to learn what resources would help them keep their businesses going.
“We need a permanent fund for programs, like a grants program, and we need to raise that money as soon as possible,” McKee-Rodriguez said.