The ceremonial shovels were driven into the earth. Not long after, the real shovels took over.
The downtown Community Redevelopment Agency broke ground Thursday on its most ambitious project since the undergrounding of the electrical lines, a stormwater improvement project on Lafayette Street that also will serve to beautify and make pedestrian friendly that area of the South Cape.
The objective also is to bring more businesses in and encourage existing businesses to beautify their properties.
The event was light and festive, with CRA Executive Director and City Manager John Szerlag borrowing Public Works Director Steve Neff's jacket before taking the podium and expounding on the meaning of the CRA.
"The purpose of the CRA is to eliminate blight and there's no better way to do that then to have construction projects both in the private and public sector," Szerlag said. "It's incumbent upon the CRA to also do epistructure projects and we're fortunate to have funding available to do that,"
The CRA, which had a shaky future before the city council took it over, will fund the $1.47 million project which will serve not only as a drainage project, which is its main function, but also for aesthetic purposes because the improvements will enhance the streetscape, Szerlag said.
Among the improvements will be brick pavers from the curb to the property line, palm trees, pedestrian lighting and "bump-outs," Szerlag said.
The project, constructed by Denco Construction and engineered by Avalon, is expected to be complete in December.
A look at Lafayette Street tells the story. Mahogany trees have uprooted the sidewalks and the lack of lighting that makes the street dark and spooky at night.
The hope is to make Lafayette Street into another Southeast 47th Terrace, with eateries and other businesses.
"It will be a transformational project. It will be pedestrian friendly and will set the tone for many areas in the CRA," Neff said. "This is a water quality project. Now, developers, in lieu of doing stormwater treatment on their own property, will be able to buy into our system. With that success, we can replicate it throughout the CRA area."
With that, the ceremonial shovels went into the ground. Moments later, the loaders and work trucks began to make their way down the street to begin work, with the idea of getting it finished before the peak of season.
Business owners were thrilled to see this project begin, seeing this as an opportunity to increase foot traffic and make Lafayette Street a destination.
"It will hopefully beautify the street, a facelift would be great. Hopefully, it will attract more people from Cape Coral Parkway and down this block," said Mark Viet, owner of AAE Glass Art Studio. "You give them a nice street to walk down from the Holiday Inn it will help the businesses here."