As snow moves into Prior Lake, construction crews move out.
They’ve left behind a new roundabout on County Highway 21 and a nearly completely resurfaced Highway 13.
It’s a relief for business owners big and small in downtown Prior Lake that for months dealt with changing traffic routes, limited parking options and a slowdown in sales.
“I love it,” Lisa Bornhorst, owner of the Olive Moon boutique, said of the new roundabout. “I think safety-wise it’s awesome because people pulling out on Duluth was so dangerous all the time. So that right there is worth it.”
Something needed to change with downtown traffic, said Beth Gassen, owner of GG Pretty Things, said of downtown traffic.
“We totally cruise through now, it’s nice,” she said.
Crews finished work on County 21 ahead of schedule on Nov. 8. Highway 13 work is 94% done, according to the city’s construction website, movingforward13-21.com, as of Thursday.
Mayor Kirt Briggs said he’s been glad to see residents’ feedback on the changes have largely matched the city’s message, encapsulated in the #PLWorthIt campaign to entice visitors to the city’s commercial centers.
“Those that have driven the roundabout have applauded that design aspect of this project,” Briggs said. “I couldn’t be prouder of our community. We made our way through.”
Briggs said, if anything, the project has taught city staff the importance of consistent communication, particularly online. So far it seems to be working. Briggs said his most engaged with posts on Facebook since becoming mayor two and half years ago were his posts on the construction’s progress.
The city’s also taken a more active role in drawing people in with events like Chalk Fest. Those efforts have been widely supported by the business community, though the events haven’t made stores impervious to the decrease in foot traffic over recent months.
In September, several store owners said they were counting down to the end of construction as their most important sales months of the year neared.
“We’re desperate for a really good fourth quarter,” Becky Leffler, manager of Sweet Nautical Boutique, said in September. “If the trend continues to be downward for the fourth quarter, it’s going to be significant for some people.”
Bornhorst’s boutique, just around the block from Sweet Nautical Boutique, has gotten through the construction, but Bornhorst said she’s also heard some of her neighbors haven’t fared as well; business at some is 30% down.
Twisted Loop Yarn Shop owner Jennifer Krosnowski said she hasn’t checked her books but her gut feeling is sales are slow this year as well.
“If you weren’t a local, you didn’t know how to get here,” Krosnowski said of traffic to her store next to the Prior Lake Library.
She’s hoping that will change as roads open up and the store enters its busy winter season.
“Make that effort to come through. Shop local,” said Bornhorst. “You can get everything you need downtown. You don’t need to go anywhere else.”
Though this construction season’s end is in sight, more is coming next year. The city expects 2020 work on Highway 13 roundabout to run from spring until July 2020.