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Construction nears completion at M.L. King Boulevard and Market Street at Miller Park on Thursday, March 8, 2018 in Chattanooga, Tenn. The next closure will be along M.L. King between Georgia Avenue and Lindsay Street for repaving, followed by the the 800 block of Georgia at M.L. King.

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M.L. King Boulevard set to reopen March 21

At first it was rain and excavation delays.

Next week it will be repaving.

But on March 21, Chattanooga commuters will be able to drive between Miller Park and Miller Plaza on M.L. King Boulevard once more.

And the ride will be spiffy, on new, white brick pavers that are part of revamping M.L. King Boulevard and the Patten Parkway area.

The one-block section of M.L. King between Market Street and Georgia Avenue was closed down in November as part of the rebuilding of Miller Park. The closure was supposed to last no more than 100 days, but nature and a misplaced water line got in the way.

Chattanooga Public Works Administrator Justin Holland said the boulevard rebuild technically would be ready by the end of next week, but the city transportation department is going to start repaving Georgia and Lindsay streets on Monday. He said the city decided to give the asphalt a few days to cure before letting vehicles on it, as well as lessen confusion and annoyance for motorists.

"We just didn't want to see all that stuff tracked over those brand-new white brick pavers. That would be just awful," he said. "And we don't want to open a small portion and close a small portion all at once."

The $14 million district revamp will bring Miller Park up to street level and create a tree-lined median on M.L. King. Wide-open green space will be anchored by an amphitheater along 10th Street and a rocky outcropping at the corner of M.L. King and Georgia avenues.

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke has described the comprehensive makeover as a "once-in-a-generation investment" in the city's future.

Under the street surface, workers relocated part of a major sewer line. Once M.L. King reopens, the city will close the block of Georgia Avenue from King and Patten Parkway and finish the sewer line relocation.

That is scheduled to take only about 30 days, but the owners of two businesses facing Georgia Avenue are dreading it.

Mindy Benton, owner of Mindy B's Deli, said the current M.L. King closure has been hard on her business.

"We've had a significant impact and loss of business," Benton said. "We're creatures of habit — if something's not as easy as it used to be, [the customers] will go elsewhere."

Blue Ivy Flowers owner Dale Wilson said the same. Though the shops have parking on Patten Parkway, she said walk-in traffic is definitely down.

"It's a double-edged sword," Wilson said. "I'm excited about all the new possibilities. When the park is finished, it's going to be gorgeous, and with bike lanes all the way down on M.L. King, it's going to bring us more business."

She and Benton said the city is doing a good job of keeping everyone informed, and local merchants are communicating and cooperating to help each other through until construction is complete and the area is once more a destination for locals and visitors. They're talking about using social media for joint marketing and to offer coupons and specials that will bring people in to shop and dine.

"We feel like if we mesh all our contacts together, we're going to be a greater force," Benton said. "If we can make it through, it's going to be awesome."

Contact staff writer Judy Walton at jwalton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6416.

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