New light rail worries businesses

Posted: Updated:
By Jennifer Thomas By Jennifer Thomas

PHOENIX -- The light rail is expanding further into the East Valley and for businesses in that area it’s not just the train coming. They’re also anticipating the arrival of some headaches.

Right now, the rail runs along Main Street in Mesa and stops just east of Dobson Road. But construction is already under way on Main Street from Longmore to Mesa Drive and eventually it will run all the way to Gilbert Road. 

At a town hall meeting Thursday night, Valley Metro officials told residents the light rail has the potential of bringing billions of dollars to the area.

But some businesses are worried they won’t make it through construction to see any of that money. Evidence for the basis of their concern can already be found along 19th Avenue in Phoenix, where light rail construction has been going strong for three months.

“Thank you for calling Uncle Tony’s Pizza,” Tony Spahiu said into the phone, answering one of only a few take-out calls coming into the shop Thursday afternoon.

It's dinner time but there's nobody in Spahiu's dining room. A third-generation pizza shop owner, Spahiu is worried about his business that opened up six months ago.

For the first three months everything was great and there were plenty of customers. 

But now, Spahiu thinks the spot at 19th and Northern avenues, where he chose to do business because of its great location, is actually what’s killing him. 

Orange barricades and ripped-up concrete piled all over the street by light rail construction makes it very difficult for customers to get to the businesses along 19th Avenue.
“Oh, we're 60 percent down,” said Spahiu, comparing his business since construction started to the time before it began. “I invested all my money here. If I close this [shop] that’s it, I will be on the street.”

But Valley Metro is asking businesses stick it out, touting the economic benefits at a town hall meeting in Mesa to discuss the newest light rail line.

“Currently, our 20-mile system has seen about $7 billion of economic activity around the station areas,” said Ben Limmer with Valley Metro.

Limmer said light rail stops mean big bucks that businesses should want to be near. Part of Thursday’s meeting was to get input on where those stops should be placed along the new light rail route in Mesa.

“We take a look at the potential growth areas around the station areas and that's actually how we locate the stations,” Limmer said.

Not everybody in Mesa is convinced.

Mike Juszkiewicz said his used-car lot, 48th State Automotive, was along the light rail when it first came to Mesa. He and his business partner stuck it out through construction until shortly after the trains started rolling.
“It was devastating. From start to finish it was devastating,” Juszkiewicz said.

He moved the business to save it the first time around. But with the new expansion, his business is once again on the proposed route and he feels like he’s tied to the tracks with a train bearing down.

“If they break ground we're moving," Juszkiewicz said. "We can't stay. We can’t go through this again. We can't make it."

Valley Metro said the full funding is in place and the project is ready to move forward with picking stop locations. The project is slated for completion about midway through 2018.