For months, business owners along Mesa’s Main Street in the city’s downtown have watched as light-rail construction crews slowly crept toward their area.
The wait is now over.
After months of planning, the crews will start work east of Country Club Drive Wednesday for the extension of METRO ‘s light rail system. The first focus will be relocation of utilities on Main Street from Country Club Drive to Hibbert.
It is all part of a 3.1-mile extension to bring light rail from Sycamore to Mesa Drive.
Under an agreement with the city, with support from business owners, construction will be stepped up and intense May 1 through Sept. 30, to minimize impact on businesses during winter visitor season.
Queens Pizzeria co-owner Shelley Nikolich said she’s been attending METRO and Mesa light rail meetings for more than a year.
“I think they have done a marvelous job keeping us informed,” she said. “It’s the unknown, so we don’t know what it’s going to be like Wednesday morning (when construction begins). But it’s exciting.”
The business is located at 125 W. Main St., at the heart of where construction will take place. In the last month, the city has placed signs around downtown to give drivers directions to parking available behind most of the Main Street businesses. That, Nikolich said, is “a godsend.”
“We’ve been trying to plan accordingly,” she said. “And we hope to get the construction workers in here to eat, too. We don’t have any plans to close. They’re doing it so we can stay open and we’re open seven days a week.”
During construction, the two north lanes of Main Street will be closed and all traffic will be diverted to the south side of Main Street, with one lane going in each direction, said Howard Steere, manager of community relations for Valley METRO.
“As you approach Date or Hibbert east or westbound, you will be diverted to the south lanes,” Steere said.
No street parking will be available, but that’s where the new parking maps come into play. There are four large parking zones in downtown Mesa behind the Main Street businesses. The maps assign a color to each parking zone and each business is assigned a color to help customers know which is the closest.
Matt Muralt, owner of Muralt’s Custom Jewelers at 228 W. Main St., came to Mesa 2007 aware that the light-rail train was planned for the area.
“I believed that would be a good thing so I purchased a building on the street knowing construction is coming, knowing it’s going to be nothing but positive after the construction,” he said. “After the train is here, it’s going to be exciting for everyone if everything follows with the colleges and more nightlife. I feel like a pioneer taking the arrows, but it’s going to be great. I’m hoping it becomes similar to a Tempe with the young people. I’m attempting to purchase more property to cater to that cliental.”
The nonprofit Neighborhood Economic Development Corporation, or NEDCO, was brought on to help companies prepare for light-rail construction.
“NEDCO has been working with the businesses since July 2011, with workshops and one-on-one consulting to help to stabilize and make them a little more resilient so when they face this potential drop in revenue they’re prepared,” said NEDCO’s Terry Benelli.
NEDCO’s most popular service has been marketing, including website and social media development, she said. Many Main Street business sites now include information on parking availability.
“Our huge push is to get customers to the back of the businesses which is where the parking is. I don’t think a lot of customers realize they can enter from the back of the businesses,” Benelli said.
Businesses are also working with Valley METRO, which will operate the light rail.
“We’re obviously very engaged with all the businesses in the community and in downtown Mesa,” said Melissa Quillard, spokeswoman for Valley METRO. “It’s going pretty smoothly. The biggest thing is we have a dedicated community outreach coordinated who is working with the residents and businesses in the area. The community itself, the businesses are very active and participating in the process, so it’s been really good so far.”
Construction will take a few years, with plans for light-rail testing to start in the second quarter of 2015.
Information on parking in downtown can be found at http://www.valleymetro.org/images/uploads/futureextensions_uploads/Mesa_DMA_ParkingMap.pdf.
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