A great deal of construction has gone on all over Mesa in the last few years but nowhere has it been more heavily focused than downtown.
Main Street has been torn up, right down the middle, in anticipation of the coming light rail project for months now, and will be for another year, at least.
In light of all of the activity, commotion, and general disruption in the area, one might expect to see an economic slump, but even though there’s no denying some establishments have gone out of business, other local, small businesses report that everything seems to be going just fine.
“Some have seen a decrease in business, but, for the most part, the businesses that I have talked to have been optimistic and positive about light rail and are doing what they can to make sure their business doesn’t suffer from it,” said Erica Snyder, events manager for the Downtown Mesa Association.
Light rail construction is still set to continue through fall of 2015, but Valley Metro has taken precautions to make the impact on the thoroughfare as minimal as possible.
“I wouldn’t say the construction has been easy, but they’ve kept it really clean and they’ve worked their tails off to make sure that everybody knows about those back entrances … they have done an outstanding job of communication,” said Sally Harrison, president and CEO of the Mesa Chamber of Commerce.
Randy Bailey, owner of Bailey’s Brake Service, is no stranger to city activities threatening his livelihood. Back in 2003, the Arizona Court of Appeals saved the business with a ruling that Mesa could not use eminent domain to take the property for its own purpose.
Even Bailey, however, said the construction to downtown hasn’t hindered his business.
“We’ve got loyal customers that I think will help maintain us forever,” said Bailey. “We’re slower than we had been over the last few years but that’s just because of the economy.”
The answer, across the board, is that everyone is looking forward to the influx of traffic expected when the light rail is complete and operational. Bob Nelson, director of communications for the chamber, said eateries he has spoken with have the mindset that the light rail will bring in foot traffic but then it is their job to bring those people in the door and make customers of them.
One restaurant that has particularly excelled is Queen’s Pizzeria and Café. Instead of hunkering down for the coming difficulties, the owners decided to make bold strides and bought the location next to them to avoid being rent-priced out of the area in the future.
“When the construction actually started, we were expecting a lot worse,” said Gannon Nikolich, Queen’s Pizzeria owner. “But it’s been really good, actually. I can’t complain. Valley Metro’s done a great job. The city’s done a great job in coordinating with them and getting signage up.”
Harrison recounted how the owners brought in brick from their own home to lend the desired aesthetic to the walls of the new space, infusing it with their own presence in a very personal way.
“One of the reasons they are doing so well is they are very active,” said Snyder.
Nikolich said he has high hopes for the future of the downtown area once the light rail is completed.
“We’re expecting downtown to change pretty rapidly. We’re expecting rapid growth within the first year or two that it opens … a lot more foot traffic … just kind of putting downtown Mesa on the map.”
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