May 5 2009 12:00 AM
The Lansing Board of Water and Light will shut off power along Washington Square in downtown Lansing for 16 hours between Saturday morning and Sunday night, forcing businesses to either rent a generator or close down on a day that is expected to see large crowds because of a breast cancer charity walk and the end of Cooley Law School finals.

BWL spokesman Mark Nixon said the power shut off is necessary to fix underground electrical wiring that would cause future problems and Sunday was chosen to do the work because it’s a slower day for downtown.

“There’s an underground vault with five very, very big circuits coming together,” Nixon said. “The circuits are supposed to be hung on hangers, but they’ve deteriorated over time. They’re pretty much lying on top of each other. It’s a dangerous situation and a reliability issue we need to correct.”

The power will be shut power off on the 100, 200, and 300 blocks of Washington Square between 3 a.m. Saturday and 7 p.m. Sunday.

“We chose Sunday because we thought it would have the least impact on the businesses,” Nixon said. “There are about 60 businesses in the area, and most of them are retail establishments and office buildings that aren’t open on Sunday. There’s about a dozen or so that are open, most of them restaurants.”

So far only one downtown business has complained, Nixon said. The Daily Bagel had concerns about its food spoiling during the outage, so BWL will provide a refrigerator and a freezer for all downtown businesses to store food.

Mindy Biladeau, the head of the downtown Principal Shopping District, did not return a call seeking comment Friday.

The bar Brannigan Brothers is installing a generator to stay open Sunday at its own expense. To provide businesses with a generator would be a “liability issue” for BWL, Nixon said.

“This is a huge weekend for us,” said Joshua Arritt, a bartender at Brannigan Brothers. “Finals are over at Cooley Law School, and all the kids are going to party. We pretty much have to be open.”

In addition to finals, the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, a 5-kilometer run for breast cancer, will be going on all day Sunday and is expected to draw around thousands downtown.

“The actual race is taking place west of the affected area,” Nixon said, “but the power outage will be disrupting people who want a bite to eat before or after the event.”

Clem’s Collectables, a comic book shop next door to Brannigan Brothers, will not be open on Sunday, even thought it usually is.

“It’s a ghost town in here on Sunday,” Tom Flammer of Clem’s said. “I can’t really imagine many of the businesses being effected by the power being out.”

BWL sent letters to businesses on April 13 and also called them, Nixon said. But there still seems to be a lot of confusion over why the electrical work needs to be done.

“Just like anything man-made,” Nixon said “the hangers have the potential to fail. That’s why we do scheduled maintenance, people looking all the time for reliability.”

With miles and miles of circuits running underground, it’s easy to think that more sections of downtown Lansing could be shut down, but Nixon says that this is a unique situation.

“People keep asking when was the last time this happened,” he said. “It just doesn’t happen that we shut down for this long and in a core retail area of the city. But if we don’t go in now, it could get worse.”

While it may be a risk to remain open, those that do are aware of what they’re getting into, and hope to come out on top.

“We think we’re going to get a lot of people, just because others won’t be open,” says Arritt. “The generator is an expense, but we need it. It’s just the cost of doing business.”

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