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Merchants in Guadalajara's Centro Historico need tram line construction to end

For the last few decades, Guadalajara’s heart has been slowly hemorrhaging its inhabitants in all cardinal and inter-cardinal directions - a one-way circulatory system which neglects to pump oxygenated blood back into its most important organ. Construction for the number three subway line along Alcalde/Septiembre 16 has only worsened the problem, pinching off pedestrian traffic on and around said avenue that would normally have sustained its commerce.

But the economic devastation wrought by a well-intentioned public work may be the Klieg light that throws into glaring relief the neglect that has plagued Guadalajara’s core for decades, leading, perhaps, to a long-overdue revival.

Businesses stitched onto a time-worn, dusty urban ribbon some 13 blocks long and four wide - from Calle Jesus Garcia in the north to the city’s cathedral to the south, and Santa Monica in the west to Pino Suarez to the east - have seen their operations devastated since ground for the new subway line was broken in 2015. The Guadalajara Chamber of Commerce estimates the damage to be thus: 105 business shuttered, 1,700 lost jobs, and at least 388,000,000 pesos in potential profits down the drain. Those businesses which have remained open report profit losses of 50 to 90 percent.

A looming issue that the Chamber is hoping to address concerns the subterranean project’s timeline. As is often the case with large, expensive public works, City Hall’s estimate for the termination of its excavation and construction was overly optimistic. Next February will mark four years of work along the corridor, with little to no light at the end of the tunnel signaling completion. Contrast that with muni augurs’ initial estimate that within 11 to 18 months, eager 9-to-5 commuters would be elbowing their way onto train cars soon to be covered with graffiti and spackled with chewing gum.

A further municipal shortfall, according to business leaders, is their seeming unwillingness to communicate transparently with both the general public and those who work in the affected area. There has been little effort, for instance, to keep the populace updated on the ongoing status of the project or keep it apprised of transportation alternatives; the closure of Alcalde has created, ironically, a huge transportation black hole, no doubt the central culprit for the apocalyptic state of trade in the area.

The Chamber of Commerce hopes to address all the above-mentioned woes with the city’s compliance with the following demands:

One, that a meeting be convened at which the government will sign in proverbially blood an end date to the subway works.

Two, that in the event said temporal Rubicon is crossed, merchants be financially compensated, even if is so much as a day extra is written into the construction calendar.

Three, that a campaign promoting the advantages of shopping in the center (low prices being chief among them) is undertaken.

Four, that authorities continually keep the pubic updated on the work’s progress.

And five, that citizenry be informed as to the optimal utilization of the city’s extensive, if battered and perilous, bus system to arrive at the affected swath of bruised - but not beaten - urbanity.

Many of these demands were made in concert with the Centro Historico Business Association, headed by Ana Maria Garcia. She recalls the monetary compensation offered to business owners when work first started, which took the form a 60,000 peso loan from Siteur, the government agency responsible for the city’s electrified train system.

“In comparison with the rents you pay on Avenida Alcalde, it was a palliative measure,” complained Garcia.

According to Juan Ibarra, manager of biker bar El Piston on pedestrian thoroughfare Pedro Loza, one block to the west of Alcalde, this monetary “support” was allocated to certain businesses to the exclusion of others.

“I don’t know why some did and why some didn’t [receive the loans],” said Ibarra. “Why some businesses were deemed worth of this support and others weren’t is beyond me.”

Tania Flores in her barbershop on Alcalde

Tania Flores, owner with her father of barbershop Peluqueria Alex on Alcalde, pointed out the futile, Catch-22-esque nature of the Siteur loan.

“If I receive this loan, how am I supposed to repay it?” she exclaimed. “There’s nobody here! No business! As far as I know, most of the businesses didn’t accept it because of that.”

Flores’ father opened Peluqueria Alex over forty years ago. Notwithstanding the loyal following the shop enjoyed down the years, the subway works have created too formidable a hassle for many of their clients. For people arriving to their appointments by bus, rerouted lines resulted in them being deposited over eight blocks away from the shop. People with cars found parking in the area had become a Herculean task, with much of the surrounding area suddenly off limits; to park anywhere near their destination they risked being towed or fined.

Flores also mentioned safety as a major factor in people’s decision to avoid patronizing the area; de-population has emboldened criminals to take advantage of vulnerable people, a fact that an uptick in assaults reported along Alcalde bears out.

“We’re staying afloat with help from family,” said Flores. “We’ve been here so long. My father has lived practically his whole life in this place. It’d be really sad to have to leave. We’re holding out until we just can’t survive here anymore.”

Rosa Elena Ramirez, pet shop clerk

Back on Pedro Loza, Rosa Elena Ramirez, cashier at a tiny pet shop, stared dolefully at the small television across the aisle from her counter and offered her own perspective on the area’s economic outlook.

“They say it will be worth it once the line is done, that it will attract more people to the area,” she murmured. “But we’ve lost 50 percent of our business. There’s just enough for rent and my salary. The owner had to move back to Zacatecas to work in order to keep this place going.”

The prevailing attitude towards the government’s projected end date is one of weary skepticism. Alberto Larios, an employee of Mercantil Tapatia on Pedro Loza for the last 20 years, has heard many promises made the last few years concerning his and other businesses’ deliverance for their financial woes.

“They tell me that next year they’ll be done,” said Larios. “But I think it’s pure speculation.”

To view the article on the Guadalajara Reporter website, click here.

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