By Ainsleigh Cunningham
Streetscape work on the East Jackson Avenue section of the Square, spanning from the Boure’ restaurant to Saint Peter’s Episcopal Church, is making progress as it approaches the two-month point.
The idea was brought about during the peak of the COVID-19 virus pandemic. The city allowed restaurants and bars along the Square to set up make-shift outdoor patios where patrons could dine and businesses could serve more customers with the set capacity rules. Since that was liked so much by Oxford locals, this streetscape renovation will allow that set up to be permanent.
The construction is led by Phillips Contracting. They have completed projects, much like the East Jackson construction, in several other north Mississippi towns.
The construction has not stopped businesses on this strip, however. According to Rafter’s Music and Food kitchen manager Jack Woodward, “it is hard for customers to navigate through the mess but we are still here and we are looking forward to the completion (of the construction).”
The bars and restaurants are still operating and functioning, even though they may have a cardboard sidewalk that customers use to enter and exit their establishments.
“The local businesses and offices on East Jackson have been so great to work with and have really helped this project run smoother than I expected,” said Reanna Mayoral, city engineer. “Our pedestrian traffic has been alert and respected our construction boundaries.”
Back in early June, Oxford and other surrounding areas experienced extreme flooding and historically high rain accumulation for a straight week. However, crews adjusted and formulated how to get caught up and move forward with the street work.
“The extreme flooding we had in early June did set the project back a few days,” Mayoral said. “However, the contractor was back on site by the end of the week and worked through the weekend to try to get back on schedule.”
When carrying out a streetscape renovation, it is always unknown what might be discovered when excavating the sidewalks and roads that have been around for years, and also to make it a point to keep the disturbance to a minimum.
“Honestly, I am still holding my breath until we get to the end of the project,” Mayoral said. “Anytime you are working next to buildings as old as these are, you just don’t know what you may find. We have tried to limit our removal near the buildings to just the existing sidewalk so that we are not disturbing any more than we have to.”
At this point, permanent sidewalks are beginning to be poured and set in place; however, much of the strip is still dirt. At the completion of asphalting the roadway, East Jackson will be open for thru traffic again except for the couple of days where the contractor has to stamp the crosswalks. The crosswalks will look like those on North Lamar Boulevard and Jefferson Avenue. However, crews will still be working on the sidewalk and outdoor dining areas.
The permanent outdoor dining and street enhancements to East Jackson Avenue will most likely be supported and appreciated by the restaurants and bars along the street, not only the businesses but Oxford residents and tourists as well.
“So many city departments have pitched in to help in so many ways,” Mayoral said. “The project has been a great collaboration so far. Currently, the progress schedule indicates that the project will be completed ahead of the Aug.17 deadline.”