Symbolically — and practically — the Sound Transit light rail station construction sound wall looms above Broadway as tall as 24-feet high in sections. Sensitive to its presence in the core of Capitol Hill, the public transit agency has hired an artist to give the wall a more pleasing aesthetic and put the space to use. But Capitol Hill business owner Eric Hayes already knows how he would like to put that space to use. Hayes wants to use the wall to advertise the family business that he says is struggling to survive in the midst of construction-choked blocks near the future light rail station.
“We went back and forth on how they could help,” Hayes said of his discussions with Sound Transit about the greater than expected impact from light rail construction on the Broadway Locksmith shop on E John across the street from the northern entrance and exit to the sound walls. “My business is directly affected and has slowed down dramatically. We agreed on a sign.”
For the past few weeks, a sign advertising the third generation Capitol Hill locksmith shop has been bolted to the wooden sound wall. Knowing that construction will continue until 2016, Hayes said he invested in a high quality sign for the space, spending $800 for a graffiti proof coating. But now, Hayes says, he has been told the sign is coming down.
“We never intended for the construction wall to be an advertising billboard,” Sound Transit spokesperson Bruce Gray told CHS via e-mail. “Some of the Broadway Locksmith’s on-street parking was impacted recently and we agreed to put his sign up on the wall to help offset that, even though that business does have off-street parking. The sign was always intended to be temporary. His sign will come down in mid to late September.“
The issue comes up as ambitious projects to decorate the sound wall with art are taking shape. We recently posted about the new huge mural on the wall that runs above 10th Ave.
Hayes says he needs the sign to offset losses from customers who are scared away by the busy construction traffic in the area. “They never told me this is where the exit would go,” Hayes said. “[The sign] has helped. Once it comes down, it’s going to be another hit for me.”
Michael Wells, interim executive director of the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce, said he understands the locksmith’s plight. “It’s a difficult time for a lot of small businesses. Having this kind of construction in the middle of the business district is adding to the frustration for some people.” But Wells said his organization’s mitigation planning with Sound Transit already took into account the proximity of businesses like Hayes’ and provided budget for resources like extra cleaning and management of their business space to help them through the construction period. Now, Wells said, other businesses see the Broadway Locksmith sign and ask why they can’t have one. “Merchants are getting confused,” Wells said. “It is my understanding that signs were intended to be only available for businesses that lost direct access. And that those signs were not intended to be advertisements.”
Hayes says Sound Transit needs to do more to help businesses make it through to 2016 when the light rail station is going to open. He says businesses are taking things in their own hands and fighting to keep their businesses alive. He even added a banner to the railing in front of his business for Twice Sold Tales when Sound Transit wouldn’t hang the promotional sign for the business on its construction wall, Hayes said. Sound Transit has since put up an information sign pointing people to Twice Sold’s new location on Harvard.
Hayes also points at the Chamber’s own promotional sign on the construction wall for their business guide to the Hill, Yourcapitolhill.com. “If the Chamber of Commerce can do it, why can’t I?” Hayes asks. Wells says it’s a matter of profit. “It is an ad. But nobody is making any money on it,” Wells said.
Still, the Broadway Locksmith sign is coming down. Sound Transit says it has a solution lined up that the agency believe will benefit all businesses in the area. Sound Transit’s Gray said that, in the locksmith sign’s place, ST will install “a more permanent sign that includes a map of all the businesses in the immediate area and possibly some sort of community billboard/chalkboard.”
Whatever it is, Hayes said he is sticking it out. “We own the land. We’re not moving and paying somebody high rent,” Hayes said. “Besides, we’re the Broadway Locksmith. Where are we going to go?”