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SALT LAKE CITY -- An infusion of public money seems to be paying off in one Utah neighborhood. It's not federal stimulus money, but a roughly $2 million public-private partnership to spruce up an iconic Salt Lake intersection.
A couple of years ago, the city decided to invest the money in fixing up the area of 900 East and 900 South. Now it's become a model for the kind of walkable, bike-able neighborhood center the city wants to promote, and customers are plentiful.
"My favorite thing is that it's not a whole lot of chain places. You can go to a neighborhood that isn't just like every other neighborhood," said Salt Lake City resident Jane Hoffman.
Salt Lake City resident Emily Sutherland said, "I liked it before, but I like it even better now. And I think it's just prettier and a nicer place to be out and easier on the traffic too."
Before, its liabilities were glaring: crumbling concrete, limited landscaping, empty storefronts and a shortage of decent parking. Now, there are new light posts, landscaping, benches, signs, parking, planters and sculptures. It's all thanks to $1.6 million in city funds, combined with $400,000 from nearby property owners.
"We've been on the corner here, one corner or the other, for 16 years. This is as alive and exciting as I've seen it," said Alan Hebertson, owner of Coffee Garden.
"The street definitely needed it. It was a hard run making it through the nine or 10 months that it took. It almost put us out of business," said Joe Maughan, owner of 9th and 9the Jewelers. "But we're happy with the overall result, absolutely."
Just before construction started, the Mazza Middle Easter Cuisine restaurant took a leap of faith and moved in. Now it's often packed. "It's definitely paid off. We're in a nice neighborhood with nice neighbors. It's just turned into a wonderful decision," manager Joe Crockett said.
Two new restaurants are coming, and another, Pago, opened three weeks ago, in part because of all the improvements. "It's just a testament to: If you spend a little money and do it right, there's definitely a return on that and everyone benefits," said Scott Evans, Pago's owner.
Whether this catches on elsewhere may depend, in part, on future money. Because of declining tax revenues, Salt Lake and most other cities don't have as much money to invest in these kinds of projects as they did when the economy was booming.