A miscommunication last weekend cost some downtown businesses money. Now, the City of Knoxville is apologizing and looking to improve next time.
On Saturday, a construction job shut down the entire block of Gay Street from Summit Hill to Union Avenue. Streets and sidewalks were closed to the public, with the barriers blocking anyone from accessing the numerous businesses on that stretch of road.
Those businesses say they didn't get any advanced warning, and several city officials were unaware of the project, too.
"We've had many closures downtown over the last few years. Most of them have worked really well," said Knoxville downtown coordinator, Rick Emmett. "We're still trying to get to the bottom of exactly what happened, but it's just a communication error -- clearly."
Emmett said he found out about the closure Saturday afternoon, along with several other city officials. The construction company obtained a permit for the work, which briefly explains a roofing project. The project documents also include a traffic management plan that indicates the work would shut down the road and the sidewalks.
Despite the documentation, Emmett said many city officials, including himself, were unaware of the plan, and therefore did not notify businesses.
"We're friends with all the businesses down here, and I think all of them know that in the future we're going to try our best to communicate with them if we know," he said. "Again, that was the problem this time: we didn't know exactly what was going on."
"It killed us, because we'd just come through the slowest part of the year and finally got a nice day," said Josh Sidman, who owns The Parlor music store on Gay Street. "Downtown was packed with people. Market Square was just a mob scene -- and I was here pretty much the whole day and I watched probably a couple hundred people be turned away from this block."
Aside from his loss of business that day, Sidman is also upset the city issued this type of permit.
"I'd like to know who is responsible, because I've had to go through the process of getting a building permit in the past for very minor stuff, stuff that would impact nobody, and had countless officials tell me I cannot do what I want to do. And here, somebody closed down the entire block and impacted several businesses," he said.
Emmett said city officials intend to have a new plan for the next large-scale construction project downtown.
"We're going to have pre-meetings in the future before a major even happens like this, If we know a major road closure is going to happen. So everybody, various city departments, everybody involved can have a say in it," he said.
He said the city will also try to meet with a contractor on-site to review plans ahead of time.
Sidman wrote to Mayor Madeline Rogero with his frustrations, and copied the note to his Facebook page. The mayor replied with an apology, and a promise to review policies and procedures to ensure a similar incident doesn't happen again.
"Apologies are nice but they don't fix the damage," Sidman said.
"It was just a horribly timed and unfortunate set of circumstances, because if it could have happened on a slow Tuesday when it was raining, it would have been much less injurious in terms of what we lost out on. But it was a perfect day, downtown was packed, and it happened at the very worst possible time."