Businesses in the Wright Dunbar business district say they hope the closing of the Third Street Bridge will not result in a big reduction in pass-by traffic and walk-in sales. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

Third Street bridge closing worries Wright Dunbar businesses

The Third Street Bridge closes next month for nearly two years — the biggest bridge project in county history — and some Wright Dunbar businesses are worried what that will mean for their walk-in sales and activity in the district.

No one is more concerned about the $18.5 million project than James Nuñez, who owns Texas Beef & Cattle Company at 1101 W. Third St.

Nuñez says he has been on a month-to-month lease since summer because he believes his business could see a 20 percent drop in sales once the bridge shuts down, which could force him to relocate.

“We’re not planning on leaving, but also, we cannot not plan — we must be prepared,” he said. “You cannot leave yourself flat-footed and not be able to respond.”

RELATED: Officials to break ground on $16M Third Street bridge replacement

Others in Wright Dunbar say they think the closure and bridge replacement will lead to less traffic and walk-in sales in the district, but they aren’t sure to what degree.

But some people disagree and insist the bridge closure only will result in a minor traffic detour that is not going to deter people from visiting.

“This bridge has a one-block detour to Fifth Street to Edwin C. (Moses Boulevard),” said Erica Hubler, director of real estate and property management for Wright Dunbar Inc.

Texas Beef & Cattle Company, which opened in 2016, relies on lunch customers who work or visit downtown and who use the Third Street Bridge to travel to Wright Dunbar, Nuñez said.

Some regular customers include workers in Montgomery County government buildings, city of Dayton facilities, the Greater Dayton RTA, the federal building and other major employers like CareSource.

Nuñez said some customers get off at the Interstate 75 exit and cross the Third Street Bridge.

MORE: Montgomery County bridge project will be its biggest ever

The official ground-breaking for the Third Street Bridge took place last month. The structure is scheduled to close completely on Jan. 1 and reopen in October 2021.

Consumers make dining decisions largely based on convenience, and with so many other food options in the downtown area, many people will not be willing to take a detour to visit Texas Beef & Cattle, Nuñez said. The restaurant is the only sit-down dining establishment in the Wright Dunbar business district.

Customers who typically stop in five to six times each month might scale back and only come once or twice each month, he said.

Nuñez predicts his walk-in lunch business will decline by 30 to 40 percent, which he believes will contribute to an overall 20 percent drop in sales.

“Who’s going to be driving by?” he said. “They just aren’t going to be coming this way at all.”

Nuñez said he cannot go 21 months subsidizing his business if it has weak sales.

He plans to wait and see what happens, because he does not want to relocate.

But he is already scouting out potential new sites. Nuñez said he won’t make any decisions until he sees the sales numbers.

Nuñez said he has met with city and county leaders and officials to discuss his concerns, and they have mentioned potential resources that might be able to help, like signage or online marketing.

But Wright Dunbar needs new destination businesses, he said, and it is going to be hard to attract any when the easiest and fastest way to get to there from downtown is cut off.

EARLIER: Third Street bridge to be latest to undergo repairs

The West Fifth Street bridge is about 0.2 miles south of the Third Street Bridge. The West First Street bridge is about 0.3 miles north of the Third Street structure.

The primary detour route for pedestrians and vehicles will be the Fifth Street bridge, said Paul Gruner, Montgomery County engineer.

Gruner said how the bridge closure will impact traffic volumes is unknown at this point.

But there are numerous streets that connect Third Street to Fifth Street, and motorists are likely to select a route that they view as the “path of least resistance.”

In October, Gruner helped host a business owner coordination meeting related to the bridge closure. He advised business to use county and city of Dayton economic development resources.

He said businesses can keep customers happy by keeping them informed and using social media and email lists to provide updates about the project status.

The Third Street Bridge is the major connection between the city’s west side and downtown, and losing it could lead to less traffic along Third Street in the Wright Dunbar business district, said Eric Baker, manager of Flawless Barbershop at 1115 W. Third St.

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Less traffic will reduce the exposure the businesses get from motorists passing by and could result in fewer people visiting Wright Dunbar businesses, he said.

Flawless has loyal customers from both sides of the river, including some who catch the bus from downtown, he said. Undoubtedly, they will not like losing the most direct way to get to Wright Dunbar.

“We will be affected some, but I don’t know how much,” he said. “Hopefully it won’t be a lot.”

Wright Dunbar is growing and improving, and hopefully the bridge closure will not hurt that momentum, he said.

Jackie Shine, the owner of VJAP Fashion Boutique at 1109 W. Third St., said she did not know the bridge was closing and being replaced until she was contacted by the Dayton Daily News this month.

She said the closure will be an inconvenience that likely will make it harder for Wright Dunbar to attract the kinds of businesses and entertainment activities it needs to really flourish and grow.

But she said many of her clients are on the west side of the river, and those who are coming from Centerville, Oakwood or other areas on the east side should still have an easy time getting to her women’s apparel shop.

“I don’t see it impacting my business,” she said. “I could see it impacting other businesses.”

Willis “Bing” Davis says he’s optimistic because Montgomery County officials have listened to business owners’ concerns and have been sensitive and thoughtful about trying to limit the impact of the detour.

The county plans to install signage that should clear up confusion about how to best get to Wright Dunbar, said Davis, who owns Bing Davis Art Studio and EboNia Gallery at 1135 W. Third St..

Davis has been an aesthetic design consultant on the Third Street Bridge project to try to make the new structure a community amenity and symbol of unity.

County officials say the bridge’s design and finishing touches will include images recognizing the Wright Brothers, the annual unity march and civil rights leaders.

“It pleases me that they cared enough to make it special,” Davis said. “It’s going to be so unique and so special, it will be a point of destination.”

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