Hannibal pursues compromise with downtown sidewalk conflict

Hannibal City Engineer Mark Rees, right, flips through plans at a meeting to discuss concerns for Hannibal's Main Street sidewalk project. (H-W Photo/Maggie Menderski)
Posted: Dec. 4, 2012 10:27 am Updated: Dec. 25, 2012 11:15 am

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

HANNIBAL, Mo. -- The new sidewalk in downtown Hannibal isn't wide enough for Jim Thompson's pony.

The old-time mechanical pony had been sitting outside of Mrs. Clemens Antique Mall since before Thompson bought the shop on Main near the corner of Bird in 2010. He said adults remember riding the pony as children and children continue to approach the retro ride today.

Having enough space for both passers-by and the pony has become one of several concerns that Thompson and other downtown merchants have with the Hannibal sidewalk project.

Several business owners said last week that the sidewalk being poured wasn't what the city and architects had promised during an October 2011 meeting.

At a public meeting Monday that drew 50 residents, they gathered to suggest solutions for the new sidewalk.

The 12-foot wide sidewalk had originally been designed with an 8 percent downward slope from the shops toward the street. A new design essentially split the sidewalk into two flat surfaces, one closest the shops measuring 8 feet wide and the other 4 feet wide, with a 6-inch "step up" between the two rather than an incline.

Bleigh Construction employees already had poured 15 to 20 feet of the new sidewalk on the second block on the west side of Main Street when city officials made the decision to stop work because of the shop owners' concerns.

City Manager Jeff LaGarce said last week that some property owners were concerned about people tripping on the sidewalk. Thompson said he's afraid the new sidewalk will pose a liability to him and a danger to his customers. Councilman Mike Dobson, who represents Ward 2, where most of the project is being completed, said he wanted to see the project done correctly and in a way that satisfies the merchants and downtown visitors.

"The world sees Hannibal through Main Street," Dobson said. "We want to have something to show them."

City Engineer Mark Rees said the new design was aimed at easing the slope of the original. However, some merchants said the sidewalk would be too narrow for shoppers to walk it side by side. Shopkeepers at Main Street Wine Stoppe worried about whether the new sidewalk would accommodate the tables often set up outside.

Thompson went so far as to place caution tape and orange cones outside his shop after the first segments of sidewalk were poured. Because of construction and what he believes is a safety hazard, he hasn't opened his shop in four weeks.

"I do sell antiques," Thompson said. "So I have elderly people in my store all the time."

LaGarce said the new sidewalk meets Americans With Disabilities Act requirements, but he understood why shop owners had problems with the plans. The split-level sidewalk and railing might hurt the downtown's aesthetic appeal and interfere with the routines of the Hannibal merchants and customers.

LaGarce explained that shop owners had never seen the final draft of the sidewalk design because city officials had hoped for the construction to be completed by the Christmas season. He said adjustments can be made given more time.

LaGarce presented a compromise that calls for a 10-foot-wide sidewalk aside a 2-foot-wide sidewalk nearest the curb, with the 6-inch step-up at the curb. By widening the part of the sidewalk closest to the shops, shop owners can safely put out benches, tables and rides, such as Thompson's pony, near their store entrances.

Architechnics Inc. of Quincy, Ill., will revisit the sidewalk design before Tuesday night's regular City Council meeting, and the council intends to amend Tuesday night's agenda to include any revisions.

By a show of hands Monday, merchants indicated they'd like to see the final plans before the city pursues them. LaGarce anticipated the project could be back on track as early as March.