There's nothing like major construction to curb business along a thoroughfare, but at least one business on North Temple is finding a way to celebrate the 18-month shutdown of the vital viaduct that connects the westside commercial district with downtown.
The owners of Mestizo Coffeehouse, 641 W. North Temple, are taking advantage of the reduced traffic to obtain a permit to throw an arts festival July 10 on what is normally one of Salt Lake City's busiest streets. The event will mark the cafe's second anniversary of operation at CitiFront, a mixed-use development across 600 West from the construction zone.
How the bridge closure will affect business no one knows, but the coffeehouse intends to weather the transition to a more pedestrian-friendly streetscape geared toward local businesses and community organizations, said Mestizo co-owner Terry Hurst, a neighborhood activist who lives nearby with his artist wife, Ruby Chacon.
The city and Utah Transit Authority shut down the viaduct Sunday for the $71 million replacement job that will divert traffic away from North Temple onto 400 South and 600 North. The 42-year-old bridge handled 25,000 cars a day, but was a frightening span to walk. Working from the west end of the bridge, crews Sunday began peeling asphalt, and dump trucks lined North Temple to receive the debris. Mayor Ralph Becker will host an official groundbreaking Tuesday.
The businesses most affected will be dozens of motels, stores and restaurants along North Temple between 600 West and Redwood Road.
The viaduct replacement is a key piece of a three-year effort to turn Salt Lake City's blighted western gateway into a "grand boulevard" with wide sidewalks and TRAX's airport extension running down the middle. The new bridge will accommodate the TRAX line with a station at its apex that will serve a transfer stop with a FrontRunner stop underneath at 500 West. Construction is expected to take three years.
The current viaduct stretches from 400 West to 600 West. The new span will be one block shorter, starting west of 400 West, and will have four lanes of auto traffic, instead of the current six, and devote the extra space to pedestrian use.
"It will be a shorter bridge, a safer bridge. Right now it acts as a physical barrier between the two sides," said Bill Coker, co-owner of the Red Iguana, a popular Mexican restaurant at 736 W. North Temple.
While the Mestizo and Red Iguana owners embrace the changes, others are not so enthused. Property owner Guy Timothy fears the bridge reconstruction might force some businesses to go under.
"We will have to lower the rent and do whatever we have to do to help them," said Timothy, whose family owns property at 800 West and North Temple, where a Pizza Hut sits. "I don't think it will ever be a walking area."
More than 30 restaurants, most of which are fast-food chains, dot North Temple, along with other businesses. Many with drive-through access do not lend themselves to foot-powered patrons.
Managers at Smoker Friendly tobacco shop, 824 W. North Temple, are concerned about motorists' loss of left-turn access due to the TRAX line. But the shop does not expect the viaduct closure to have much impact because most of its patrons live in neighboring FairPark and Rose Park, said assistant manager Jamie Vanover.
UTA is helping pay for advertising and assembling a business directory. For example, a billboard has been erected depicting a construction worker with the caption: "Pretend we're not here. Shop North Temple," Coker said.
"It became clear we need to be proactive, rather than see what kind of impact the closure would have and react to it," he said. He recently opened a second Red Iguana on South Temple as part of the strategy.
The Mestizo, home to Chacon's nonprofit Mestizo Institute of Culture and Art, doubles as a community center for many neighborhood organizations, including Presbyterians who congregated there on Sunday.
"On Thursdays we have the atheists and Wednesday is open mic," said manager Dave Galvan, who Sunday was putting up supplemental signs along the parking strip to let motorists know where to go to find espresso beverages and baked goods.