MATA AND MADISON BUSINESS NOT IN SYNC 

MATA AND MADISON BUSINESS NOT IN SYNC

"Why are we stopping the rail extension at Cleveland?" Will Hudson asks rhetorically. "Because that's where we ran out of money." The Memphis Area Transit Authority president and general manager claps his hands and cracks himself up. He's the only one in the room who thinks the joke is funny.

MATA officials met with Madison Avenue business owners on Thursday, January 31st, to discuss concerns that construction of the new trolley line is having a negative impact on their businesses. Some, especially new business owners, fear bankruptcy. For them, running out of money is no laughing matter.

Officials were clear about two things. One: They want to help the beleaguered businesses. Two: The aid they are offering will probably not be financial. No part of the $75 million allocated for the rail extension was budgeted toward assisting businesses blocked by construction.

Questions from business owners concerning tax relief, a utility freeze, or even low-interest loans arranged through the Center City Commission were met with noncommittal shrugs and a repeated reminder that everyone was given a week's notice before street closings.

One MATA official suggested that snack stands and sidewalk sales might encourage pedestrian traffic. Shortly thereafter a representative from Hill Brothers' construction explained that recent environmental restrictions prohibit his company from cleaning the site. That's why nothing has been done about the mud and dust caking the sidewalks.

MATA did agree to place sandwich-board signs at closed street corners announcing that businesses are still open. There was also some talk of freeing up part of MATA's marketing budget to advertise businesses along Madison. Advertising on MATA trolleys and buses, however, would not be provided.

MATA officials confessed that at no time during the planning of the rail extension did anyone investigate the economic impact of necessary street closings on existing Madison Avenue businesses.

"We thought about it," said MATA project manager Tom Fox.

The MATA panel also admitted they were aware that construction of the original Main Street trolley had contributed to the closings of several businesses along the mall.

"Some of us have to sacrifice to get things done," said Vanessa Young, MATA's construction manager.

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