Local merchants seek "fairness' in All Aboard access

By Charles Ratliff

Arizona Daily Wildcat

UA administrators met with University Square merchants yesterday and agreed to try and resolve issues concerning the All Aboard/Pocket Money card.

Each side agreed to work with the other as "partners" rather than "adversaries."

"We need strong businesses around the university," said Bruce Wright, director of economic development at the University of Arizona. "It's in our interest to have stable businesses surround the campus."

"We want to be in partnership with you," he told the group of 15 merchants representing the association of 80 businesses located in the East University Boulevard and North Park Avenue area.

Mort Edberg, one of the owners of Landmark Clothing and Shoes, 873 E. University Blvd., agreed that merchants would rather work with the university instead of against it.

"There is a way this can benefit all of us," Edberg said.

"I'm committed to working with the merchants," Wright said.

But, before the university can effectively resolve the merchants' concerns, several issues need to be addressed first, he said.

Wright said that the UA has initiated a fairly aggressive effort to meet merchants' needs at the same time addressing concerns the university feels are just as important.

One issue Wright said the university is addressing is a wholesale reexamination of the Student Union.

Melissa Vito, dean of students, and Mike Low, interim director of the Student Union, were on hand to clarify merchant's questions about the Student Union.

Merchants say "name brand" businesses with All Aboard access, such as Domino's Pizza, create an unfair advantage for off-campus businesses.

Low said 15,000 students participate in the All Aboard card.

Taken into proper perspective, that is 15,000 out of a UA community population of 50,000, Wright said.

"We're not prohibiting anybody from anything," Wright said. "Our consumer,

the student, has gotten older and more discriminating (in their buying habits)."

"It's a balancing act, but we're willing to try and explore the idea of a debit card" that could be used on or off campus, he said.

Vito said that one thing that should be looked at is how student buying habits have changed over the last few years. Although some universities have changed to mall-type food courts, more student unions are keeping to the cafeteria-style offering balanced, healthier meals for students.

"The unique thing about the university is that we don't have any kind of meal offering for students in the dorms," Vito said. "Each residence hall has a few vending machines, but that's all."

Merchants are also dealing with the commercial redevelopment of certain areas around campus, he said. The Main Gate Project and the Sixth Street redevelopment projects will actually benefit the merchants in both those areas, Wright said.

"I think one of the most difficult problems merchants have is with the uncertainty of our planning activities," Wright said.

He said the Main Gate project would actually create a whole new market for the University Square merchants.

"One of the most positive aspects to this is that there will be 300 to 400 new people right in their backyard," he said.

Wright said the two-and-a-half year city project to widen Speedway Boulevard is an example of the university's good faith toward merchants.

"The city wanted to eliminate those businesses and develop those areas," Wright said. But, the UA stood with merchants and prevented the city from making any drastic changes, he said.

Another change which could benefit merchants and open a new market for businesses around campus is the possible relocation of Christopher City to a site either on campus or near campus, Wright said. The decision hasn't been made yet, but if the university decides to move the housing to campus it could definitely benefit businesses.

Wright said he would formally communicate to merchants the need to choose several representatives to meet with a committee as part of a task force on business and community affairs and the committee will begin meeting at least once a month working to resolve the discussed issues.

The merchants said they are used to a different level of decision-making and are not used to the many layers the university requires as part of their process.

"The main thrust is the debit card," Edberg said. "If we don't resolve this after the second or third meeting, then it's just a waste of time."

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