Construction in Tempe is almost inescapable. The traffic delays, booming demolition and dusty metro air can affect the lives of ASU students, staff and local residents. These negative repercussions seem to be overlooked in the interest of the University’s ceaseless need for innovation and expansion.
ASU and the city of Tempe have continually invested in construction projects around the University’s main campus, which has had a detrimental impact on local businesses. While this construction has proven short-term inconveniences for consumers and business owners, it is expected to have positive long-term effects on business.
ASU President Michael Crow has signed off on $1billion worth of new developments to maintain the University’s expansion, he said at a town hall in May.
These projects range from several new apartment complexes to the construction of a retirement home on Mill Avenue and retail spaces that will allow new businesses to reach ASU’s student body.
These new projects enable the University to form meaningful partnerships with corporations. ASU’s relationships with local businesses often prove to be beneficial to students, as they create job opportunities, discounts on goods and services, and new places to shop, live and eat.
But the high volume of construction in such a small area does not come without pressing issues. Local businesses, which can become inconvenient to access, are significantly impacted by the construction.
“Depending on what the construction is, it can make a business or hinder it,” Kassie Haywood, assistant general manager and three-year employee at Original ChopShop’s Tempe location, said. “It really hurts our business. However, in cases of construction of new buildings that don’t block off roadways, such as the new Union Apartments next door (to ChopShop), that actually just brought us a ton of new business. There are now a bunch of new local students who are coming into ChopShop multiple times a week who weren’t originally there before the new building.”
Haywood also said that she has received numerous calls from patrons claiming that they were unable to find ChopShop’s location due to the road blockage from construction.
Businesses on Mill Avenue have especially suffered consequences of the construction.
Chloe Rizzo, a stylist at Juut Salon Spa on Mill Avenue, said she has noticed a drop in business among her clients — even native Arizonans and regulars — because of construction.
“My clients are exhausted from the construction,” Rizzo said. “I talk to a lot of people every day, and it’s always a first topic. I have clients say that if it wasn’t for me, or the salon, they would never even come to Tempe.”
The construction around ASU’s Tempe campus, which is home to numerous single-lane streets, makes it difficult for patrons to access businesses. Some students, like Lauren Coleman, refuse to even attempt driving through Mill Avenue due to how slow and inconvenient it can be.
Jonathan Schneider, an ASU junior studying communication and a ChopShop employee, said that due to the store’s location, he always hears complaints about the traffic and construction.
“Especially when University Drive was under (palm tree) construction, we had a lot of food delivery workers come in,” Schneider said. “It turns people away from traveling to the actual store.”
Not only does this construction dampen business, but it also has a negative impact on students’ education.
Lauren Coleman, an ASU junior studying secondary education, said construction noise frequently disrupts her class in the G. Homer Durham Language and Literature building, and they even had to relocate to avoid the disturbance.
“We sat on the floor in the Social Sciences Building, and we are planning on going there again for class this Thursday and maybe for the rest of the semester,” Coleman said. “It is quite frustrating that we can't have our class in our assigned classroom because the construction is so loud.”
Coleman also stated that she tries to avoid driving and riding her bike on Rural Road, Apache Boulevard and Mill Avenue due to the construction.
According to the Minnesota Department of Transportation, small businesses are at risk for difficulties from construction projects because they rely on local traffic to support their existence.
“The construction on Mill Avenue has caused a lot of chaos for my clients, as well as everyone else at our salon,” Rizzo said.
She also said that clients have a difficult time finding parking, which causes lateness and sets back the salon’s schedule as a whole. She mentioned that lateness makes stylists unable to complete their full service due to time constraints.
Roadway construction may also make it increasingly difficult for employees to make it to work on time.
Haywood said the construction affects the whole day’s workflow at ChopShop. One of her employees was recently 30 minutes late due to construction, she said. This small setback affected the food preparation process and delayed orders.
Construction on ASU’s campus has been the norm for several years, but why exactly is the University so deeply committed to developing new structures?
This is likely due to the University’s biggest marketing tool — the “number one in innovation” rating.
ASU’s chief research and innovation officer, Sethuraman Panchanathan, said in a State Press article in 2017, this rating is closely related to forming “partnerships (with) corporations and entities that share common values with us, like Starbucks, Mayo (Clinic), Adidas…” along with “everything the institution is involved in.”
New developments, such as Mirabella or the Hayden Library reconstruction, sets ASU apart from other universities.
Haywood believes that once the light rail expansion and the Mill Avenue town car construction are finished, a whole new demographic could be introduced to the local business scene.
“Right now, we have a lot of student customers and a lot of local business workers who come here on their lunch breaks, but we think that this could bring a lot of high school students waiting for the bus or nearby shoppers,” Haywood said.
ASU’s leadership values innovation and development, even when local businesses are directly impacted.
Coleman said that she finds it difficult to fully enjoy the campus while everything is being built and rebuilt.
“I really wonder whether all of the construction projects going on right now are unique to this year or if this will be the standard rate of construction on our campus and in our city from now on,” Coleman said. “I hope it isn't.”