Landlords who refuse to renegotiate leases, restrictions on the size and placement of signs and an increasing variety of city-imposed taxes and fees are hobbling Ahwatukee Foothills businesses already suffering in the ongoing economic recession, according to local officials.

Revenue has dried up for many businesses because of the downturn, said Terri Kimble, president of the Ahwatukee Foothills Chamber of Commerce, which represents about 500 local businesses.

"Americans are saving their money. They have less of it," Kimble said.

Many chamber members have complained that out-of-town landlords are deaf to the pleas of struggling business owners to help them remain in business by lowering their rent, she said. Many businesses are being forced to close or relocate.

"Retail space is very expensive here," Kimble said.

Another problem is city of Phoenix restrictions on the size of commercial signs, she said. If city officials would relax sign laws to allow for larger and additional signs, it would help drive business, she said.

"People need to know where to find them," Kimble said.

Decisions by Phoenix officials to hike taxes and fees - such as increasing water and sewer rates and raising building permit and development fees - have hindered economic recovery, as well, she said.

"We've got to reduce taxes," Kimble said.

Sal DiCiccio, a Phoenix councilman whose district includes Ahwatukee, said city officials are out of touch with the business community.

"There is a culture in City Hall that does not understand what's going on," DiCiccio said. "We have been working diligently to try and get the city of Phoenix to understand the plight small business owners are going through. They don't get it."

He said his office has been conducting an outreach campaign to small businesses in the district and has a staff member dedicated to assisting them who can be reached at (602) 292-0725.

"I would encourage anyone who is having a difficult time to call my office," DiCiccio said. "We'll try to find out what we can do to help."

He said the suggestion that Phoenix relax sign laws for a time is worth exploring.

"I think that's a good idea," he said.

Kimble said that even with the challenges facing local businesses, Ahwatukee is better off than other parts of the city.

"We still are very blessed down here. We have one of the lowest commercial vacancy rates in the Valley," she said. "But we've still got a long way to go. We've been hit, but I think we're slowly creeping back up."

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