Dilla Libre Restaurant

Mike Baum said his Dilla Libre Restaurant has taken some big hits because the city's project at Hayden and Thomas roads has chased away customers.

A six-month construction project aimed at improving one of Scottsdale’s most dangerous intersections may have inadvertently devastated some local businesses, leaving one local entrepreneur frustrated with what he sees as an inadequate response from city officials.

The $2.7-million project at Hayden and Thomas roads began in May and has caused significant backups for east and westbound traffic, sometimes limiting movement to one lane in each direction.

Mike Baum, co-owner of the Dilla Libre restaurant that sits just east of the intersection, said the backups and delays have slowed traffic to his business to a trickle.

Baum said the restaurant’s sales volume is down 70 percent since the construction began.

From the city’s perspective, the construction was a necessity as the intersection has a collision rate twice the city average.

 In 2014, the intersection had a collision rate of 1.61 compared to a city average of 0.57.

Improvements include a new center median along Thomas road, new turning lanes on both roads and dedicated bus bays on Thomas Road.

According to the city, the intersection has ranked in the top six in Scottsdale for the number of collisions for the last 10 years.

Baum co-owns the Scottsdale Dilla Libre and another Phoenix location with Daniel Pawenski. They also own the Dilla Libre and Pho King food trucks. 

The pair launched Scottsdale Dilla Libre location in June, but has occupied the same building, previously as Pho King, for over three years. 

Baum said construction crews have intermittently blocked the vehicular entrance to the restaurant’s parking lot, and the road improvements caused delays that pushed consumers away during typical high-traffic times like the lunch rush.

“Traffic is so bad that once you get to the restaurant, it takes 15 minutes to get in,” Baum said. “People, especially during lunchtime, avoid this area altogether.” 

Since construction began, Dilla Libre’s Scottsdale location has had to cut staff on payroll from 30 people to 6, Baum said.

While the other restaurant and food trucks are performing well, Baum said struggles at the Scottsdale location are dragging down the entire enterprise.

Baum isn’t alone.

Ray Wallani, who owns the Cactus Mart convenient store east of Baum’s restaurant, said his business was also negatively impacted by the construction project, with traffic to the store dropping by 50 percent since construction began.

“It’s pretty bad, man,” Wallani said.

According to city staff, the city performed ample outreach in the years leading up to the project to warn businesses and mitigate issues.

Alison Tymkiw, the city’s senior project manager overseeing the road improvements, said that outreach included a well-attended meeting with local property owners during the project’s design phase in 2016.

“We additionally met with each individual property owner through the right of way acquisition process and, in most cases, we met with them onsite,” Tymkiw said.

During those meetings in 2016 and 2017, city staff walked property owners through the project and how it would impact the area. 

Tymkiw said the city then mailed postcards to individually notify property owners before construction began.

As for Dilla Libre, Tymkiw said the city has been in communication with Baum – who was unaware of the project when he signed his lease.

She said the city has met consistently with representatives from Dilla Libre since 2016 to address his concerns. 

Tymkiw said those meetings were “very much hands-on (and we) have had several meetings with him. He actually came in and met with a contractor at our pre-construction meeting.”

In early October, Baum sent an email to Lane and each member of the City Council detailing the struggles the business had gone through during construction. 

Baum said he was unhappy with the response he received from the mayor.

“When I talked to the mayor and he tells me you’re out of luck and there’s nothing we can do for you – that’s not good enough,” Baum said.

Mayor Jim Lane did not respond to questions emailed by the Progress.

Baum said the response left him feeling like he had no representation to advocate for him or his business.

“There’s nobody that has my back. There’s nobody that goes to bat for me as they destroyed my business,” Baum said.

Tymkiw said the preponderance of complaints came from Baum “but I really haven’t heard much from any of the (other property owners).”

Wallani disputed that.

“This is the outreach,” Wallani said, holding the postcard from the city.

Wallani said he left multiple voicemails for the city’s project manager prior to the start of construction to find clarification on whether or not the center median construction on Thomas Road would block the entrance to his business for eastbound traffic.

“She never returned my calls,” Wallani said.

For Wallani, one saving grace is the construction project is scheduled to come to an end this month.

“Mid-November we should have all lanes open for traffic,” Tymkiw said. “We still might have some behind-the-curb work and landscaping to finalize, but our goal is to have the traffic barricades off the street by mid-November.”

Both westbound lanes on Thomas Road reopened in front of Wallani’s shop recently after five months of construction.

“I did a double take when saw both cars go by,” Wallani said.

Baum, however, said the damage has already been done.

“I can’t live in my house anymore. I don’t have a place; I live out of my car,” Baum said, noting he rents out his southern Scottsdale home to make ends meet.

 “I will never start another business in the City of Scottsdale again,” Baum said.