PHOTO: The front of Old School Signs and Old School Vapor on School Street, which was lowered more than two feet below the businesses’ parking lot / Photo by Alexander Willis
By ALEXANDER WILLIS
A string of businesses off of Duplex Road on School Street are facing a significant loss of business after the construction on Duplex Road removed access to 11 of their parking spaces back in July.
The construction has seen School Street lowered by roughly three feet below the businesses’ parking lot, completely removing vehicle access to those parking spaces. The project also has plans for a sidewalk to be constructed between the businesses’ parking lot and School Street, preventing any future vehicle access to the parking lot from the street.
Sam Oechslin runs one of the affected businesses, Old School Vapor, and said the loss of business is affecting his livelihood, and criticized both the city’s and the state’s transparency and communication regarding the issue.
“We’re literally losing sales because of this, I would say we’ve lost about 15 percent of what we generally do,” Oechslin said. “The thing that just really makes me mad is they came out here; TDOT, the city and some other people, and we were just getting no answers. No one’s come to say anything to us about any step of any of this, and we really just want an answer from them [on how] to fix the parking lot.”
Oechslin maintains that both he and many of the other business owners on School Street were not notified that the construction would permanently affect access to their parking spaces.
Larry Adams, the owner of the barbershop Yankee Clippers on School Street, shared Oechslin’s concerns, saying the construction has hurt his customer walk-in business, and that he was also unaware that the project would affect his parking.
The actual owner of Old School Vapor, as well as Old School Signs, Kim Proctor, said beyond the financial blows the construction has caused, it’s also become a safety hazard.
“We’ve had two people fall,” Proctor said. “One guy fell down the pavement, the other one was trying to walk around and exit out the back, and fell in the mud.”
Oechslin, who is Proctor’s stepson and helps run Old School Vapor and Signs, described one of the injuries, saying a man had fallen off of the dropoff into a construction net and sliced his hand open.
Communications Director for Spring Hill, Jamie Page, said that the issue is difficult for the city to solve, as the construction on Duplex Road is a state project handled by the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT), not the city. Page said that a portion of the property on School Street was purchased by TDOT from the property owner, Tim Neal, for $8,500.
According to an appraisal report acquired by the Home Page, Neal had met with Debra Rhemann, a representative for the city of Spring Hill, on October 13 of 2016 to discuss the purchase. During the meeting, “the purpose of the project as well as details concerning the effects of the project [were] discussed,” according to the document. Neal later agreed to the conditions, signing the forms and selling the property to the state for the $8,500.
When asked about the purchase, Neal maintains that he was not informed of any effects on his property’s parking lot access, nor was he not told about the state’s intent of lowering School Street before selling the property. Neal also said “hindsight’s 20/20,” and that knowing what he knows now, he would not have sold the property.
Proctor said that he believes there to be an “easy fix” to the dilemma, which he said he’d be willing to assist with.
“It wouldn’t be the best scenario, but they could grade this parking lot down to where we could probably fit nine lateral parking spots – meaning, you wouldn’t be able to pull straight in, but you could pull up on the hill at an angle,” Proctor said. “I told them if you do that, I will pave this or concrete it if you get the grade right.”
Currently, the elevation is still significantly different between School Street and the parking lot of the retail businesses there, with only two available parking spaces, both in front of Yankee Clipper.
In a meeting with city officials, Proctor said he admittedly got “hot-headed,” and explained his concerns and the impact the construction has caused him and his fellow businesses.
“There’s almost $5 million worth of revenue running through this building,” Proctor said. “I said, ‘you all are taking advantage of businesses, and you’re going to hurt them,’ and I said, ‘If you think this is just an old, worn out building, it’s not. It’s people’s livelihoods.’”