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North Temple businesses excited for airport TRAX line

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All of this effort is going to be in the interest of developing a positive business environment for the businesses that should be there and a negative business environment for the ones that shouldn’t. – Bill Knowles, Downtown Rising

SALT LAKE CITY — As the new TRAX line to Salt Lake City International Airport prepares to open this month, the small businesses that call North Temple home are excited about potential new business.

"Hopefully, it will drive business to North Temple because that's what we want," said Lucy Cardenas, who owns the Red Iguana with her husband, Bill Coker.

Cardenas said she hopes to attract new customers from travelers looking for a place to eat during airport layovers. Some people already find their way to the restaurant at 736 W. North Temple during long layovers, she said, but access along the light-rail line will make it much easier.

"I'm hoping that people will say, 'Hey, let's take the train down to Red Iguana. It's quick,'" Cardenas said.

Since construction on the new TRAX line began in 2010, businesses along North Temple have suffered. The Red Iguana has fared better than others, Cardenas said, but there were some tough times.

"The hardest thing about the whole experience was the bridge coming down," she said. "We definitely saw an impact there."

David Tram, manager of Pipa, an Asian small-plates restaurant just off North Temple at 118 N. 900 West, said business has been hit and miss since opening in the midst of the construction in 2011.

"We hope to have a more stable customer base when the TRAX line opens," Tram said. "Hopefully, everything's more stable."

Bill Knowles, ombudsman for Downtown Rising, said the construction, paired with the recession, had an undeniable impact on businesses along North Temple.

"Not one of them will tell you it wasn't painful," Knowles said. "But I will say that with one possible exception, they all made it through."

The $350 million investment along North Temple already is having a positive impact on businesses, he said. In addition to the TRAX line, the investment included $40 million spent by Salt Lake City on wider streets, wider sidewalks, bike lanes, crosswalks, new streetlights and improved landscaping.

"Property values are going up, business will be stronger, and the street is more attractive," Knowles said.

Another positive effect of the project, he said, is the mitigation of the illegal drug, prostitution and gang activity that has had a presence in the area for years.

"All of this effort is going to be in the interest of developing a positive business environment for the businesses that should be there and a negative business environment for the ones that shouldn't," Knowles said.

Utah Transit Authority spokesman Steve Allnatt said the new TRAX line initially is expected to serve 4,600 riders per day Monday-Friday. By 2030, UTA estimates, there will be 14,000 daily passengers.

"I think it's very conservative and will grow substantially over the next four or five years," Knowles said.

The airport TRAX line will not be part of UTA's free fare zone, even though officials estimate it would result in five times the ridership. UTA simply cannot afford it, Knowles said.

"The drivers have to get paid, and trains have to get maintained," he said.

When the new line opens, a ride to the airport will cost $2.50. But Knowles said UTA is working on developing a distance-based fare.

The Salt Lake Chamber has also been involved with the project dating back to 2006 when it backed a ballot measure in Salt Lake County to raise sales tax by a quarter-cent to fund transportation, with the majority of the money going to transit projects.

"Major metropolitan areas have trains that connect their airports to their cities," said Marty Carpenter, executive vice president of communication for the chamber.

Carpenter said the project will have a large economic impact, particularly for the businesses along North Temple.

"This provides a solid connection to that part of our city from downtown and essentially brings North Temple back into the fold."

Grand opening festivities for the new line are planned from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, April 13, at all stations along the line except Arena. The community celebrations will feature music, food and activities.

The celebrations will showcase several North Temple businesses, including Red Iguana, Mestizo Coffeehouse, Pipa, Leatherby's Family Creamery and Diamond Lil's.

At 2 p.m., a grand opening celebration is planned at the North Temple Bridge Station, featuring Gov. Gary Herbert, members of Utah's congressional delegation and other local officials.

In addition, the donation of a can of food will allow people to ride the new line anywhere between the Arena and Airport stations from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. All food donations will benefit the Utah Food Bank.

The airport TRAX line will begin regular service Sunday, April 14, on UTA's Green Line, offering service between West Valley City and Salt Lake City International Airport.

E-mail: mmellor@deseretnews.com