A key downtown group leader says that keeping downtown Mesa’s streets pedestrian-friendly is a priority, even if light rail would be extended down Main Street.
That was the first indication from Tom Verploegen, president of the Downtown Mesa Association, that the group is opening up to the idea of light rail on Main Street, given the information they have from Valley Metro officials.
The other alternatives proposed are that it be extended along First Street or First Avenue, eastbound from Sycamore, where the 20-mile line ends and starts in Mesa.
When the proposal to extend light rail along Main Street was first broached, it was met with considerable vocal opposition from downtown business owners.
“Obviously we anticipate the light rail is going to come on Main Street when you look at the variables that the Metro folks are looking at,” Verploegen said at a City Council meeting last week, where he discussed the future of downtown Mesa and how to charge it with activity.
The association, a nonprofit, is mainly responsible for maintaining and promoting downtown businesses and activities.
Verploegen said the association has not taken a formal position, as it awaits another presentation from Valley Metro shortly.
Based on cost and a desire to keep a direct route — coupled with the potential need to use eminent domain along the alternate routes — all are factors that will dictate “it’s going to be on Main Street,” Verploegen told the City Council.
There’s a mixed response from downtown business owners.
“I think it ruins the feel of the downtown area,” said Anita Stapleton, of Jersey Girl Cafe, a downtown business that’s been around for more than four years.
Stapleton added that bringing light rail downtown has the potential to “really hurt businesses,” during and even after the construction.
For instance, she said, last Saturday, 2,000 people showed up for a cruising event downtown, something she feels will disappear with light rail.
“Those types of events will cease to exist and we won’t be able to bring them back after light rail is completed,” Stapleton said.
That’s in sharp contrast to Verploegen, who later said light rail could be “the key to downtown’s future.”
Vice Mayor Kyle Jones, who’s also the council representative in the downtown association’s board, said that while the initial knee-jerk reaction from downtown players was “no way no how,” that stance has softened quite a bit.
The approach, Verploegen said, might be that rather than fight it, “let’s see how to make the best of it.”
Lissa Kennel of Lissa’s Shop said she’s open to the idea.
“I’d rather have it here,” said Kennel, who’s leased her store space downtown for three years. “It can only bring more people downtown and we sure need that.”
The Mesa City Council is expected to discuss the extension options within the next month or so.