A freeway exit drew Scottsdale chef Beau MacMillan to downtown Chandler. “We probably wouldn’t have come if it wasn’t so easy,” Mac-Millan said. “We spotted the sign for downtown Chandler and said, ‘Let’s go for it.’ ”
He and his girlfriend were spending a day off this week wandering along the Santan Freeway stretch of Loop 202 and ended up at 98 South, an upscale wine bar in the city’s historic downtown.
“We probably wouldn’t have come if it wasn’t so easy,” Mac-Millan said. “We spotted the sign for downtown Chandler and said, ‘Let’s go for it.’ ”
He’s not the only one.
Just as city leaders and business owners hoped, people like MacMillan are using the Santan Freeway and exiting at Arizona Avenue. For years, planners have banked on the freeway exit becoming a southern gateway to the downtown area.
City traffic engineers report an increase in vehicle traffic on the avenue since the freeway opened in December. And merchants in the downtown restaurants and boutiques say the Santan is making it easier for customers to find their businesses.
“We have several people say, ‘If I take the 202, how do I get to your place?’ ” said Kelley Wandelear, co-owner of Mind Over Splatter, a downtown pottery shop.
Guests at Chandler’s San Marcos Golf Resort and Conference Center have found traveling from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport much smoother since the freeway opened, the hotel’s manager said.
“We recently changed our brochures and included the 202,” hotel manager Darlene Heavlin said. “It’s much easier for them.”
Managers at the Kokopelli Winery & Bistro in downtown Chandler said it’s hard to say whether business has increased since the freeway opening, but they believe it’s making a difference.
Before the freeway opened at Arizona Avenue, restaurant manager Ramon Medina directed guests to take Loop 101 or even Interstate 10 to Chandler Boulevard. The rest of the trip was driven on surface streets.
“It helps because it’s easier for guests to find us,” Medina said.
To Tim Meagher, who sells wine and specialty foods at Devlin’s Marketplace, having the freeway means more repeat business.
“If they know they can get here easier, they’ll come more often,” he said.
City transportation officials report vehicle traffic along Arizona Avenue north of the freeway has increased 22 percent since it opened. At the same time, traffic along Chandler Boulevard downtown has decreased about 30 percent.
“I think a lot of drivers used to head east and west,” Chandler transportation engineer Mike Mah said. “Now they’re going north and south.”
Overall, traffic on Chandler’s arterial streets have decreased since the freeway opened through the city.
Ongoing planning for redeveloping and revitalizing Chandler’s historic downtown district revolves around the convenient access to the Valley’s freeway system that came with the Santan Freeway, officials said.
A redevelopment plan is being created by a consultant and is expected to be presented to the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission in August.