Sister Bay Tackles Upcoming Construction

Sister Bay has one goal with the upcoming highway construction: minimize impact on businesses. Throughout 2015, the village will be managing road resurfacing on Highways 57 and 42. The project will start in February and last through the year. The construction will require detours and segments of one-way traffic through downtown, which has some business owners concerned for their tourism-dependent economy.

“The minute we go to one-way traffic, we lose visitors downtown,” said Lars Johnson, owner of Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant. As the concern echoed around the room, the tone of conversation changed to what the village can do to offset these challenges.  

First up on the construction schedule is the burying of lines along the side of the highway to begin in February. In trying to capitalize on what is already the slower winter season, business owners offered the idea to host a European-inspired winter market with vendors and shops in a heated tent. Village Administrator Zeke Jackson explained, “One problem we have is that most businesses fold up right after Fall Fest. There’s a distant thought that there’s nothing to do.”

Some owners were receptive to the idea of opening their shops for two weekends in February in support of a village festival. With the Fish Creek Winter Festival and the Door County Film Festival taking place in February, Sister Bay looks to “piggyback” events, hoping to both provide support and draw on the success of these other winter events. “I find the more stuff you have in a small space, the better for everyone,” said Jackson.

Construction on the 42/57 hill will begin shortly after Fourth of July weekend while the remainder of Highway 42 heading north through downtown will begin construction after Fall Fest. The company that earns the bid for the project will decide the specifics on detours and one-way segments. The Department of Transportation plans to give the bid out in May of next year.

With the brunt of construction planned for the tourist-heavy summer months, business owners looked to trade the final weeks of construction during the fall for the quieter spring months, essentially moving the project up by a few weeks. Johnson claimed that the last few weeks of October are historically busier than the spring season at his restaurant; a claim that was met with several nods of agreement.

Unfortunately, changes made to the timeline would come with added costs to the village. “Is it possible? Yes. Is it feasible? Not really,” said Jackson. Businesses may be chained to the decisions made by the Department of Transportation and construction company while hoping the marketing efforts by the village make up for any shortcomings in visitors.

Jackson looks to create a village marketing committee with a budget provided by the village to expand on the ideas provided by business owners at the meeting.

Other ideas to aid the season of construction include:

  • • Hiring the Door County Trolley to provide transport through the construction as a mini-public transit system
  • • Increased signage to notify drivers of upcoming construction
  • • Creating placemats with a map of the village to go in each restaurant for visitors that don’t know of any roads apart from Highway 42
  • • Using uniform seasonal lodging rates across the village subsidized by retail and restaurant businesses