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High expectations, lack of communication mar Decatur project 

Construction costing retail, restaurants business

It's been more than 14 months since construction started on the $5 million Decatur MARTA Station renovation, and critics say the city's progress amounts to a lot of spin and little substance.

"It's been ridiculous, and someone should be ashamed of what the businesses near the project have gone through," Molly Badgett says. Badgett, who loves to shop in Decatur, has complained to city officials that the construction has hurt the area's independent businesses. "Two main condo buildings downtown have been completed in the time it's taken to barely scratch at the dirt on this plaza job," she says.

The city says the project is on schedule and will be completed by the end of February.

"When the contractor started, he was optimistic that it would take a year," says city deputy manager Hugh Saxon. "But we expected a 16-month construction schedule."

However, that's not what was communicated to the public or the business owners in the area, who expected a 12-month project.

"We were told it would take one year," says Karla Stokes, co-owner of Sage restaurant. "Nobody ever said anything else. We never heard of the 16-month plan."

Since October 2005, dirt and the drone of machines have filled Decatur's square in an effort to transform the area above the underground MARTA station into a more pedestrian-friendly plaza. Wider sidewalks, streetlights, granite facades and a fountain will replace the drab concrete and skylight that was an eyesore above the station and made it difficult to navigate the square.

The Decatur square is one of the last bastions of authentic, bustling independent retail centers in metro Atlanta that's accessible by public transportation. But business owners say construction has turned the busy plaza into a desolate street. A large fence has masked storefronts that flank the square and made it difficult for businesses to attract walk-by patrons.

"Our customers dropped by about 45 percent," says Jay Jimbasut, a waiter at Siam. The restaurant has now set up a delivery service to try to make up for lost customers.

Stokes says Sage is closed on Mondays and during the lunch hour now. "We're down to the bare bones," she says.

Saxon says problems with the waterproofing layer that covered the station and a delay in granite shipments from China slowed the project. He added that the station had to stay open throughout the renovation, which complicated matters.

Assistant city manager Lyn Menne says there are three crews installing the granite and that street lamps should go up this week.

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