Salt Lake City finds other ways to ‘activate’ downtown with ‘open streets’ delay
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SALT LAKE CITY — Main Street in downtown Salt Lake City will be open to vehicular traffic this Memorial Day weekend for the first time since 2020, all because the city’s “Open Streets” program is on hold for the moment.
It’s not that city leaders are abandoning the COVID-19 pandemic-era idea of turning the street into a temporary promenade, as much as there’s a regulatory hurdle in the way that’s delaying it this year, as the city seeks to find a more permanent solution for the road.
Andrew Wittenberg, spokesman for the Salt Lake City Mayor’s Office, explained that the city’s Downtown Alliance was able to implement the program thanks to an emergency proclamation originally issued in 2020. But now that it has expired , the city must change some of its allow codes and coordinate “public safety measures” so Main Street can be closed to motor vehicles and vendors can expand outdoor seating from North Temple to 400 South .
This includes changes to rules related to allowing bars and restaurants to sell alcohol on sidewalks, among other things. City officials believe they will have everything cleared up by the end of the summer.
“(We hope) to produce Open Streets again… later this year, in September and October,” Wittenberg said.
The program began in September 2020 as a way for residents to continue supporting Main Street businesses struggling due to public health concerns related to COVID-19. The city allowed bars and restaurants to sit on the sidewalk outside their businesses and closed the street to motor vehicle traffic so people could use the only lane to walk and shop. cycling on weekends.
The Salt Lake City Downtown Alliance, a nonprofit that seeks to boost downtown’s economic well-being, may implement the program due to an emergency proclamation the city issued during the pandemic. . It returned in 2021 and 2022 as something of a summer spectacle, taking place on Memorial Day weekends through Labor Day weekend, as the proclamation was still in effect.
Wittenberg said the city’s economic development department began a study earlier this month of options for a “pedestrian-first promenade on Main Street” with partial – but limited – access for automobiles now. that the declaration has expired. Part of the study would even look at the possibility of making it a year-round program.
“We’re excited to study it and see what’s possible,” he said.
Downtown is not dead
Recent studies seem to show that efforts to bring people to downtown Salt Lake City, like Open Streets, are working. The University of Toronto’s ongoing review of North American downtown recoveries acknowledges that activity in downtown Salt Lake City this winter was 139% of pre-pandemic levels, the highest among the cities she examined.
While it’s possible, even likely, that the NBA All-Star Game had something to do with it, university data shows Salt Lake City’s 2021 and 2022 summers were also in the top five cities. which she researched, with activity last summer ending 112% of 2019. Internal data from the Downtown Alliance revealed that social economy visits to the downtown also exceeded levels of 2019 last summer, even if the occupancy rate of office workers remains low.
In total, there were 16.6 million visits to downtown in 2022. People who neither live nor work downtown accounted for just over 60% of those visits.
“A lot of people think downtown is a place for office workers. Office workers make up about 30% of visits to downtown in a year,” executive director Dee Brewer told KSL.com on Thursday. of the Downtown Alliance. “The vast majority of people who use downtown are people who don’t live or work downtown.”
Find other ways to “activate” downtown
The Salt Lake City Downtown Alliance plans to help Open Streets again once the city makes all necessary regulatory changes, Brewer said. The organization is also considering other ways to “activate” downtown Salt Lake City, even without Open Streets for most of the summer, which is already underway.
The organization is helping the city’s pop-up Green Loop test park by hosting events that encourage people to test and possibly provide feedback on the project before it’s scrapped in June. It’s also helping the Salt Lake City Arts Council organize Busker Fest, where local street artists will perform on the sidewalks of Main and Regent Street this Friday and Saturday.
There’s also “Steppin’ on Main,” an event showcasing the city’s “diverse arts community,” to be held on the front steps and in the lobby of the Eccles Theater starting June 16 with more events. sometimes held over Labor Day weekend, says Britney Helmers, director of programs for The Blocks, a section of the Downtown Alliance that focuses on arts and entertainment programming.
Then there’s the annual Twilight Concert Series, one of the biggest events that also takes place downtown. The Downtown Alliance also plans to tap into some of its All-Star Game experience to keep things lively, like placing street performers on Utah Transit Authority TRAX trains like it did in February.
UTA officials told KSL.com earlier this month that transit riders will “see more” events on its modes of transportation in the future due to positive feedback the idea has received.
“NBA All-Star (game weekend) was an opportunity to look at experimental programming and we did that,” said Jessica Thesing, assistant manager of the Salt Lake City Downtown Alliance. “We’ve been able to take futuristic goals and align with programming to really drive big things downtown. … These types of events are definitely catalysts.”
The ultimate goal of these efforts, Brewer says, is to make downtown Salt Lake City a place people want to go just so they can find something new to experience on every visit.
All of the events he plans, including Open Streets, are part of the equation to get there.
“We want people to come downtown even if they don’t have an (event) ticket in hand,” he said. “We want the capital to be a destination and a gathering place for the Wasatch Front and the entire state.”