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Todd Hougaard, Deseret News
Optimism grows over Sugar House's economic future as crews test the new S-line streetcar, which will debut in December.

SALT LAKE CITY — Testing of the new streetcar line in Sugar House is underway, and business owners in the area of what used to be called the "Sugar Hole" are optimistic about where the area is heading.

The S-line is now slated to open on Dec. 8 and what was once the pit at the corner of 2100 South and Highland Drive is now closer to a “Sugar High Rise.” Several new restaurants and other businesses have opened.

“We’ve got Flatbread (Neapolitan Pizzeria) over here. Now (The) Annex is here,” observed sculptor Lawrence Adkinson at the Local Colors of Utah Fine Art Gallery. “These galleries have brought up at least two-thirds of our foot traffic and so we’ve been encouraged by that and we’ve been having more sales that way.”

Adkinson said when construction was at its worst last year, the gallery saw 75 percent less foot traffic.

“I’ve been really impressed with the way things keep getting better and better because of the development in the area,” glass artist Wayne Jacobsen said.

The optimism has spilled north a block to the twice-displaced Sugar House Coffee.

“We aren’t moving again. This is where we’re going to stay,” said general manager Emily Potts. “The first location was definitely the one we would have rather have been in, but this is going good. Business is thriving.”

The coffee shop once held the prime location at the corner of 2100 South and Highland Drive but was pushed out during the redevelopment. It first moved across the street, and then to its current location at 2011 S. 1100 East.

“We’ve been here for almost three years and had to pay for that whole buildout, so we’re lucky that we are a local business that has survived thus far,” Potts said.

She hopes the rail project, which in the future will eventually extend along 1100 East to 1700 South, will result in more foot and bike traffic and fewer cars in the area.

“In the long run, I think it will be a good thing if it gets utilized,” Potts said. “So I feel optimistic that it will benefit us. It just may take time.”

City leaders have viewed the overhaul of the area as something of a short-term pain, long-term gain.

Planning for the Sugar House streetcar began in 2006, and construction on the line started in April 2012. The 2-mile extension will run from the 2100 South TRAX station (Central Pointe) to McClelland Street (1045 East) and Sugarmont Drive (2225 South).

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Previously released estimates project the streetcar line will have 3,000 average daily riders next year. By 2030, 4,000 new households and 7,700 new permanent jobs are expected to have taken root.

Salt Lake City Councilman Soren Simonsen said the city is already seeing some impact and benefit from the development and Parleys Trail. The trail includes “The Draw,” a tunnel now under construction under 1300 East.

“Thanks to great foresight and vision from a lot of community leaders and an ability to stick with that vision and see it through, we’re starting to see a lot of great things come to fruition,” Simonsen said.

Email: aadams@deseretnews.com