The businesses that line Bonifant Street in downtown Silver Spring are an eclectic bunch.
A thrift store, a gun shop, restaurants and a couple of salons fill the low-rise buildings near the Silver Spring library.
Soon they’ll all have one thing in common: Purple Line construction outside their front doors.
The light-rail line’s route from the Silver Spring Transit Center to the station in front of the library goes down the middle of Bonifant Street.
“We’re really, really concerned,” Susan Peterkin-Bishop, the owner of Jaha Hair Studio at 941 Bonifant Street, said Monday. “We’ve been organizing for the past couple of years and trying to get clear answers.”
She said the “mom and pop” merchants in the area haven’t been provided with detailed information from Purple Line Transit Partners, the team of construction and finance companies building the light-rail line, about the construction process.
“We need to be informed about what’s going to happen and asked for our opinion,” Peterkin-Bishop said. “That hasn’t been going on consistently.”
Purple Line Transit Partners plans to shut down Bonifant Street west of Georgia Avenue during construction and maintain one lane on the road east of Georgia, according to a November community presentation. Most of the businesses are east of Georgia Avenue, and the construction team plans to maintain pedestrian access to the road.
Construction on the 16.2-mile light-rail line began in August.
Peterkin-Bishop said many of her clients park in the street spaces outside her hair studio and she fears that if she loses that parking, her business will suffer. She said she has been told construction will last for 14 to 18 months on the road. Jaha Hair Studio has been at the location for 19 years.
“We know eventually the Purple Line will be good for business, but will we be there?” Peterkin-Bishop wondered. “Can we survive for 18 months? I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
The Purple Line's route through downtown Silver Spring via a Purple Line Transit Partners community presentation made in Nove
State Sen. Will Smith (D-Silver Spring) hopes the state government can help.
Smith is aiming to update state regulations to enable business owners along the Purple Line route to claim profit losses due to construction.
He noted in an interview with Bethesda Beat that the state has a Neighborhood Business Development Program that receives about $5 million in state funds each year. His proposal calls for setting aside about $1 million each year during Purple Line construction to enable businesses in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties to apply for a bridge grant or reimbursement for losses attributed to Purple Line construction.
He’s hoping Gov. Larry Hogan will alter the budget language to let businesses apply for the funds starting next year. He said the state would have to evaluate an applicant’s financials to determine its losses.
“I’m optimistic,” Smith said. “We have an administration in there whose slogan is ‘we’re open for business.’ This is something that will help small businesses thrive during construction.”
However, if that doesn’t happen, Smith is also drafting a bill that could be approved by the General Assembly in 2018 to enable businesses to access the funds starting in 2019. A third part of his proposal includes establishing tax-exempt zones for businesses in the light-rail line’s construction zone that would exempt them from state property and income taxes during construction.
Smith said several merchants have told him that if they lose significant parking or foot traffic on Bonifant Street, they’ll lose money and might have to close. He said the same could be true for other business districts that could be affected along the route. But once the Purple Line is complete, the businesses will have increased foot traffic and better connections to transit, Smith said.
“They’ll be in a really good position to thrive,” Smith said.
The program Smith is proposing is modeled after a similar program the Montgomery County Council approved to provide funds to businesses affected by the county’s major redevelopment project in Wheaton.
County Council members indicated their support for Smith’s plans during a September meeting with state officials overseeing Purple Line construction. At the meeting, council members urged the officials to streamline the construction notification process to make sure business owners and residents are aware of the project’s developing plans.
Peterkin-Smith welcomed the calls for increased communication and supports Smith’s plan to try to help the local businesses on Bonifant.
“We want the help and we want people to meet with us,” Peterkin-Smith said. “That’s what we’re looking for.”