Wanda severs New Eastside

The benefits of the Wanda Vista Tower will be realized in 2019.
Until then, New Eastside residents and business owners make sacrifices.

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On a warm September Saturday night, the scene at Island Party Hut was idyllic: a group of laughing women pose for a picture, beanbags slap against colorful boards. But something important was missing.

“No one,” said Steve, one of three owners, who preferred to use his first name only, as he glanced around. “There’s no [neighbors] here. There used to be 10 or 20.”

Steve turned back after scanning the 80 or so customers. “I know it doesn’t sound like a lot. But 10 or 20 would be awesome to have.”

Three weeks after the Wanda construction site severed the neighborhood’s Field Blvd. riverfront connection Aug. 22, Steve and other local business owners were feeling the impact—financial and otherwise.

“The biggest [issue] is navigating people down here,” said Urban Kayaks owner Aaron Gershenzon, referring to the many customers who use Millennium Garage. Tourists make up the Riverwalk business’s main clientele, but Gershenzon says a “decent percentage” come from Lakeshore East.

img_9658awebWhile the Wanda opening in early 2020 promises a relit and repaved route to the riverfront, business owners still face three long summers without direct access to a loyal customer base. Steve estimates New Eastsiders made up about 20 percent of Island Party Hut’s business before the Wanda closure; that number’s now dropped to 10 percent. Questions also linger about why businesses weren’t informed about the closure earlier.

“A customer said they couldn’t get to the place,” said Steve. “A few days later, residents said it would be closed two to three years. We didn’t know it was going to be closed.”

A Magellan representative confirmed Steve’s observation. “I have to admit I did not send them a notice… so there’s really no good explanation,” said the representative.

As for neighbors, reactions to the new inconvenience seemed mixed, both highlighting business owners’ worst fears and also offering a sliver of hope.

“We used to go to [Island Party Hut] before, but not since the path closed, because of the kids,” said Ulla Rittstieg, who lives in The Shoreham with her one- and three-year-old children.

img_9280webI’m by myself, so it’s easy,” added fellow Shoreham resident Elizabeth Grabill, who claimed she’d keep patronizing the riverfront businesses, regardless of the extra distance.

Steve and Gershenzon urged neighbors to keep in mind the Magellan discount — 20 percent at Urban Kayaks and 15 percent at Island Party Hut. Steve also encouraged neighbors to support Island Party Hut’s pumpkin patch and inaugural Christmas tree sale. This year will be the first year Island Party Hut stays open through the fall, until Dec. 21, Steve estimates, thanks to two covered tents.

“Continue to fight for access to the riverwalk,” Steve encouraged neighbors. “Please come any way you can.”

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