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Downtown Mesa businesses readying for light-rail construction

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MESA – In the not-too-distant future, Metro light-rail trains will travel along Main Street in front of Muralt’s Custom Jewelers, and owner Matt Muralt expects other changes to follow.

“I see microbreweries coming down here,” he said. “I see very urban, funky shops – like toy stores, comic book stores.”

When the 3.1-mile expansion of light rail into downtown Mesa is completed late in 2015 or early 2016, Muralt expects it to complement universities that have established presences downtown.

“I think it’s going to be more urban, more youthful,” he said. “Hopefully the college students find a reason to stay in downtown Mesa, and that will have to do with the merchants trying to cater to their needs so they don’t drive into Tempe or Phoenix or Scottsdale.”

The $200 million project will have Metro adding four stops beyond the Sycamore Station at Dobson Road: at Alma School Road, Country Club Drive, Center Street and Mesa Drive. The work downtown so far has removed a median from Main Street and prepped the area for track, poles for power and stations. Construction to add those is set to begin in May.

David Short, executive director of the Downtown Mesa Association, said construction will present a challenge for businesses. But in the end, he said, light rail will make downtown Mesa more livable and attract more businesses.

“Our businesses have been holding strong,” he said.

Downtown Mesa has seen other changes in recent years, including the Mesa Arts Center’s opening in 2005 and plans for residential construction that anticipates light-rail accessibility.

Jodi Sorrell, Mesa’s transit services director, said she expects even more changes once the expansion is complete.

“Light rail is not just transit,” she said. “It is transit, but it also helps with economic development and redevelopment.”

As for the construction, Sorrell said downtown Mesa is fortunate because many businesses are also accessible from the back. Having major construction occur over the summer will ease the burden on businesses because there typically are fewer customers then, he added.

Muralt said the five months of construction to date, which occurred over the slower summer season, was still tough for businesses.

“We lost a few shops,” he said.

At the Glass Urn, which specializes in Depression glass, owner Fran McLendon said her business has declined.

“I’m sure it’s because of construction,” she said.

Michel Pomeroy-Fluhr, owner of Pomeroy’s Men’s and Missionary Store, said the nonprofit Neighborhood Economic Development Corp., has made things easier by offering free workshops, individual consulting, loans and other services to businesses along the light-rail path.

NEDCO is certified by the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Community Development Financial Institutions Fund, which promotes community development.

“They’re helping us build up our businesses through marketing, through business strategies, all kinds of things,” Pomeroy-Fluhr said. “They’re there for us.”

In the end, Pomeroy-Fluhr sees a net for downtown Mesa.

“I’m optimistic that it’s going to bring people down to Mesa and to the Arts Center, which is a wonderful thing,” she said. “I see it being a positive influence for Mesa.”

David Krietor, CEO of Downtown Phoenix Inc., said for downtown Phoenix the light rail has brought and will continue to bring positives. He said he expects the same for Mesa.

“It’s a golden thread of opportunity for these businesses,” he said.

Muralt said that after construction he expects to see an “amazing change” downtown.

“The people you’re seeing right now are the pioneers who just believe in getting in before the property values skyrocket,” he said.