King Street: Finally finished

A couple walk through the intersection at King and Queen streets Thursday. The City of Charleston has completed renovations to Lower King Street from Market to Broad streets.

Nine years and $20.5 million later, King Street's face lift is complete.

All the disruption from closed-off streets, ripped-up sidewalks and blocked parking spaces is over.

"Now we have no excuse," Sylvan Gallery owner Joe Sylvan said. "The onus is on us."

City officials and merchants celebrated the conclusion of the $4.5 million final phase of the three-pronged project Thursday amid the new granite curbing and bluestone sidewalks, new street lights and palmetto trees and newly paved streets with brick crosswalks.

"The changes are amazing," Charleston Mayor Joe Riley said on an unusually raw and dreary fall day before cutting a purple ribbon outside the new offices of Charleston Concert Association at 131 King St. "It's a breathtakingly beautiful shopping corridor."

The massive undertaking described by contractors as working in the neck of a bottle was a bit behind schedule because of the layers of underground work involved. They included removal of decades-old utilities and trolley tracks and addition of new water and sewer lines, burial of overhead electrical wiring and installation of new curb-side stormwater catch basins.

"It's a great day for the merchants to have one of the most renowned shopping corridors in the country (and) have the streetscape completed," said Sharon Brennan, city streetscape project manager who oversaw work from its inception nearly 12 years ago to its completion. "The best part is knowing that it's done."

It didn't happen without angst though. Even the mayor referred to the "interruption and inconvenience" to businesses during the near-decade-long ordeal.

Merchants in each section of the work that started in 2000 inevitably complained of problems of customer accessibility while construction was under way, and even more so during the third and final phase from Market to Broad streets that coincided with the worst economy in decades.

"It was a nightmare, a complete and total nightmare," Sylvan said Thursday inside his art gallery of seven years at 171 King St. "It was the perfect storm. It was a major construction project during the worst economic storm in 50 years. I'm surprised more people didn't go out of business."

Nevertheless, Sylvan and other King Street merchants had nothing but kind words for the finished product.

"We are glad they did it," he said. "It looks good."

Alice Tellis Critikos, owner of Tellis Pharmacy, said she got to know construction workers in front of her 125 a bit behind schedule because of the layers of underground work involved. They included removal of decades-old utilities and trolley tracks and addition of new water and sewer lines, burial of overhead electrical wiring and installation of new curb-side stormwater catch basins.

"It's a great day for the merchants to have one of the most renowned shopping corridors in the country (and) have the streetscape completed," said Sharon Brennan, city streetscape project manager who oversaw work from its inception nearly 12 years ago to its completion. "The best part is knowing that it's done."

It didn't happen without angst though. Even the mayor referred to the "interruption and inconvenience" to businesses during the near- decade-long ordeal.

Merchants in each section of the work that started in 2000 inevitably complained of problems of customer accessibility while construction was under way, and even more so during the third and final phase from Market to Broad streets that coincided with the worst economy in decades.

"It was a nightmare, a complete and total nightmare," Sylvan said Thursday inside his art gallery of seven years at 171 King St. "It was the perfect storm. It was a major construction project during the worst economic storm in 50 years. I'm surprised more people didn't go out of business."

Nevertheless, Sylvan and other King Street merchants had nothing but kind words for the finished product.

"We are glad they did it," he said. "It looks good."

Alice Tellis Critikos, owner of Tellis Pharmacy, said she got to know construction workers in front of her 125 King St. shop so well because of her tenacity for making sure the work was done right that the crew gave her a red hard hat and an orange safety vest.

"They gave me a uniform but didn't put me on the payroll," she said with a laugh.

Property owners along King Street were assessed about 17 percent, or $3.5 million, of the total project cost, Brennan said.

They were given 10 years to pay.

Tellis Pharmacy paid $17,000 and an additional $2,800 for additional sidewalk work at its entrance.

"I think it looks wonderful," Critikos said of the finished product while pointing out the handiwork on the street leading into her shop.

To coincide with the streetscape completion party, Patrick Panella and his wife, Fanny, were stocking their new wine and cheese shop, Bin 152, at 152 King St. for a soft opening Thursday.

They think the refurbished street looks awesome, but they worry the new lampposts might be a bit too bright for their taste.

"We might have to put something up to block that out," Patrick Panella said.

And while he complimented the city for undertaking the project along King Street, he said the construction work probably hurt a lot of the shops.

"Because of that, I think we got a good deal on our rent," Panella said.

Andrea Schenck at Plum Elements eclectic art and gift shop on lower King Street is hoping more customers will materialize now.

"With it being finished, if people don't have to navigate the construction, then more people will shop down here," she said. "I'm thrilled it's finally completed."