Saturday, August 29, 2009

Salt Lake leaders sold on Portland streetcar system

Salt Lake leaders sold on Portland streetcar system

Published: Friday, Aug. 28, 2009 6:40 p.m. MDT

After a day of riding the streetcar line in Portland, Ore., Philip Blomquist was sold.

The Salt Lake retailer owns two bike shops near a planned streetcar line in Sugar House, and if the Oregon model gives any indication, business could boom.

"I would never have believed it if I hadn't seen it firsthand," Blomquist said after a day of touring Portland's Pearl District. "You would be amazed how it has revitalized this part of the city."

Blomquist was one of a handful of Salt Lake retailers, developers and city officials to tour the streetcar line and meet with their Portland counterparts Friday.

As Salt Lake leaders work on funding the $46 million project, drumming up support of business owners and developers along the line is equally critical in the city's success, said redevelopment agency director D.J. Baxter.

In Portland, officials have turned a $55 million, 2 1/2-mile stretch of track into $3.5 billion in private investment over the past eight years, Baxter said.

Those numbers aside, the before-and-after pictures of Portland's Pearl District had Blomquist and others hopeful about what a similar line could mean for them.

"It's opened our eyes and given us hope for the future," he said.

The planned line would run from the 2100 South TRAX station to the old Granite Furniture building in Sugar House.

The slow-moving streetcar would stop more frequently than a TRAX train, increasing foot traffic to stores along the line, Baxter said.

Right now, city leaders are hoping to land a $35 million slice of the federal stimulus package to help pay for the Sugar House line. If they are successful in grabbing that money, the line could be up and running by early 2012.

For Craig Mecham, the sooner the better.

Mecham, who owns the vacant lot at the corner of Highland and 2100 South, said he believes the streetcar line would mean more shoppers and better transit for the businesses and residents he hopes will one day occupy a mixed-use development there. But faced with a slumping economy, Mecham's project has stalled.

"Our project right now, like others, is on hold," he said. "We're waiting to see the whites of their eyes in terms of the economy. We don't see that yet. But we think (the streetcar) will certainly speed up the process."

e-mail: afalk@desnews.com

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