Business access, project time line and changes in property taxes were some of the issues downtown business owners discussed during a meeting Thursday night at the city building.

Before this estimated $1.5 million Transportation Enhancement Program project becomes a reality, the city wants to know how merchants feel about doing the project and how they think it will impact their businesses, said Bruce Pinkall, project spokesman.

The streetscape project would affect five blocks from First Street to Sixth Street, the same length of the 2011 street project.

A taskforce of merchants will be formed to work with EBH Engineering, that is putting an 80-20 federal grant application together for the project, to determine if the project will go forward and if it does, what features the merchants want.

"We would work with the task force," said Paul Stoner, EBH streetscape specialist, who wants to meet with the task force before the end of the year.

The taskforce will have to consider several project elements including concrete design, lighting, signs, plants and planters, decorative brick (an EBH suggested element) and other features.

Community support for the project is a vital part of the grant application process so community input on the project is necessary. It helps to show community support on the grant application, Stoner said.

At the meeting, Stoner provided a slide presentation featuring photos from other EBH streetscape projects and explaining how the project would proceed.

Chief among the concerns expressed at the meeting was access to businesses during construction and would their property values and taxes go up after the project.

Pratt County Appraiser D.J. McMurry said since the businesses already have sidewalks, this would be considered a replacement and he didn't see how this project could cause an increase in property taxes.

As far as access goes, the city and businesses would work closely with the contractor to make sure that customers could enter front doors and businesses would keep operating during construction.

The city needs businesses operating to generate sales tax so they need to keep businesses accessible and in operation.

"This is in all our best interest," said Pratt City Manager Dave Howard. "The better you (businesses) do the better we do."

The plan is to work on one block at a time with parking available on the other side of the street throughout the entire process, Stoner said.

Business owners can expect to have their block under construction for about a month with continuous access to their front door except for demolition and concrete pouring.

During construction, access to the business front door would always be available except during sidewalk demolition right in front of the door and for a few hours when concrete is poured in front of the door, Stoner said.

During the project, one block of old sidewalk would be demolished. Then all utility work, including moving electrical lines underground and handling any water line issues, most of which were resolved during the Main Street paving project, on that block would be done as work started on the next block.

Parking in front of the stores where construction was taking place would be blocked off but would be pushed back to the curb when it didn't interfere with work.

Unlike the street project in 2011, Main Street will remain open for traffic during the entire project.

All the work would be done on public property. If a business owner wants to have work done on their building they would have to make arrangements with the contractor.

The project would meet all ADA requirements including having at least one handicapped parking space in every block, accessible street corners and special work for store fronts that have entries higher than sidewalk level.

However, the downtown area has very little ADA issues, Stoner said.

Stoner wants to meet with the taskforce before the end of the year. If they decide to proceed with the project, he can get all the basic streetscape line-item information together and ready for the grant before the application deadline on Feb. 15, 2013.

Grant applications will be reviewed June 2013 and recipients will be notified sometime in summer 2013. Construction would take place in 2014, Stoner said.

Exact costs for the project will not be known until bids are approved. The project could be done all at once or two phases.

Depending on grant money, the project could be all five blocks at once or in two phases.

If the project is done all at once, the estimated cost is between $1.5 million to $2 million with a high-end cost to the city in an 80-20 grant of $400,000 Howard said.

If it was done in phases, the city portion could be as low as $200,000. Whatever the cost, the city commissioners would work carefully with available funds to meet all city project needs, Howard said.

The city has already been setting money aside for this project so it should not cause merchants or residents any additional cost.

"We can make it work from a city standpoint," Howard said.