Mesa offering merchants in light rail's path electric relief - East Valley Tribune: Mesa

Mesa offering merchants in light rail's path electric relief

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Posted: Thursday, September 29, 2011 4:26 pm | Updated: 5:03 pm, Fri Oct 14, 2011.

To soften the blow of light-rail construction starting next year, Mesa is planning to give about 175 businesses a break on their summer electric bills.

The incentive is one of several offerings Mesa is putting into place this year to help businesses prepare for construction along 3.1 miles of Main Street starting next summer.

The electric bill relief is largely an incentive to get businesses in on other efforts to offer support.

The city will only offer the break to those who enroll in a business assistance program run by the nonprofit Neighborhood Economic Development Corporation. NEDCO will hold monthly meetings for different categories of businesses to review their business plans, assist with marketing and provide access to a variety of experts.

NEDCO expects to start the program in a month so businesses can begin attracting customers well before construction starts, executive director Terry Benelli said.

“It’s a pretty in-depth program that we think will help them even beyond light rail (construction),” she said.

The electric savings would be capped at $150,000 per year, which comes to about $850 per business. Mesa’s City Council gave the idea high marks Thursday — to a point. Mayor Scott Smith likened the amount saved to fighting a large animal with a fly swatter.

“For some of those businesses … that’s not going to be adequate,” he said.

City officials said they could look at similar rebates for water/wastewater bills.

About 70 percent of businesses along Main could get the rebate, which is the percentage who receive electricity from Mesa. The reduced bills would be funded through the city electric utility fund, not the general fund.

NEDCO is working with businesses to see what kind of assistance would be helpful in general and for their particular operation, Benelli said. Consultants will be in place in about a month to start providing guidance.

NEDCO worked with some businesses during construction of the 20-mile Metro line that opened in 2008, and is getting shop owners involved earlier on based on that experience. Benelli said some businesses pleaded for help the day before a big bill was due, but by then it was too late to qualify for a loan or line of credit.

The previous construction project has offered other lessons that will be applied on the Mesa extension, Smith said.

“They did some great things and they had some colossal screw-ups,” Smith said.

City Manager Chris Brady said the city will be flexible with its programs based on what issues arise and what kind of assistance each business needs.

“If you look at the types of businesses up and down Main Street, it’s quite a variety from national bank branches to, you know, mom-and-pop kinds of operations that are just on the very edge, living day to day,” Brady said.

Next summer’s construction will involve utility relocation. The rail construction will start in 2013, and the system is set to open in 2016. The extension will shift the end-of-line from Sycamore to just east of Mesa Drive.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-6548 or ggroff@evtrib.com

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