By BOB MUDGE
The city of Venice Downtown Beautification Project was commemorated on Monday with a ceremony and ribbon-cutting — a year to the day after its groundbreaking.
A light drizzle didn’t dampen the spirits of city officials, who were enthusiastic in their praise of everyone involved in the project — especially the downtown business community.
For months, stores and restaurants were hit with a double whammy of construction and red tide.
“You guys put up with a lot and we thank you an awful lot,” Mayor John Holic said.
Now, the algal bloom has abated, construction is over and downtown has new streets, sidewalks, crosswalks, light poles, plant poles, utilities and more.
“We couldn’t be prouder of our city,” said Mark Andes, owner of Island Life Hammock Co. “We knew that after the storms the rainbows would come out.”
The sun never broke through to make any real rainbows but there were plenty of radiant smiles now that the more-than $8 million project is done.
“The dust has settled — literally,” City Manager Ed Lavallee said.
He and City Engineer Kathleen Weeden recalled some of the hiccups along the way, from the original bids coming in $2 million over budget to the merchants asking that the order of construction be flipped, so the eastbound lanes of West Venice Avenue would get done first.
But the City Council never wavered, Lavallee said, because the members “understood how complex this project would be if we did it correctly.”
It also involved “pretty much everybody” who works for the city, he said, “leaving no department untouched.”
Weeden said it felt to her “as if the whole world worked on this project.”
And maybe as if the whole world were watching.
“We wanted downtown to be beautiful but not different,” she said, but some of the infrastructure being replaced dated back the the ‘20s.
In particular, Lavallee said, the message from residents was not to screw up the median through downtown. It had to be completely reworked, however, he said.
It looks so new, Andes said, that a woman asked him for directions to historic downtown Venice because she didn’t know she was in it.
He said the project inspired him to learn about the city’s history. Now that it’s over, however, so is the time for looking backward.
“Now it’s the forward of Venice,” he said.