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Report: Arts, culture key to downtown SLC growth

Report: Arts, culture key to downtown SLC growth

(Jasen Lee, Deseret News)

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SALT LAKE CITY — Pushing downtown Salt Lake City to the next level economically may require an increased investment in the cultural arts.

Lara Fritts, the capital city's economic development director, said the development of a robust arts and cultural environment is a top priority for businesses considering locating or expanding to downtown Salt Lake City.

"The reason that we know this is because they told us that in our survey," Fritts said Wednesday during the annual State of Downtown panel event at the Salt Lake Chamber. "It was the No. 1 thing that our companies told us."

Firms want to better understand arts and culture, along with quality-of-life issues, as they think about where to bring their employees, she said.

"The likelihood of them expanding into our city increased exponentially (based on arts and cultural offerings)," Fritts said, "and more importantly, they were more likely to recommend Salt Lake City as a great place to do business."

One of the key strategies to employ in the future, she said, is enhanced marketing of the numerous existing cultural and arts entertainment venues and events, highlighting the downtown area's vibrancy.

Salt Lake City has three- to five-year strategic plan to encourage developers to invest in downtown office construction, Fritts said, getting builders to build speculatively without heavy emphasis on preleasing tenants.

While acknowledging the inherent risks involved, the economic development director noted that Salt Lake City has a track record that strongly indicates that if the space is developed, tenants will fill it.

Due to the current commercial development expansion taking place throughout the Salt Lake and Utah valleys, getting companies to choose downtown with its longer approval and building cycle compared with suburban locales has been difficult, Fritts said.

"That's a challenge for us because we know if they will kickstart the building, the tenants will lease (the space)," she said.

If the city and its partners are successful, downtown could see a significant increase in commercial and overall economic development.

Panelist Nadia Letey, CBRE's vice president for advisory and transaction services, said recruiting companies to downtown Salt Lake City will require showing them the myriad advantages of urban living.

"(You need) to bring your tenants or employees downtown to show them the retail, entertainment and dining that they can walk to and have the variety (of offerings) they would like," Letey said.

Downtown Salt Lake City also should focus on attracting companies that care about such things, she said.

The panel discussion was hosted by the Downtown Alliance, real estate firm CBRE, City Creek Center and Salt Lake City, and included the release of two reports about the urban center today.

The "State of Downtown Economic Benchmark Report" is a comprehensive analysis of downtown Salt Lake City's economy, explained Downtown Alliance Executive Director Jason Mathis.

The three main takeaways from this year’s reports, Mathis said, are the importance of experiences in defining a successful urban center, the continued interest people have for living downtown, and the role of art and culture in downtown's success.

“People don't go to retail centers just to shop for products. They go to have an experience that is different than just clicking away on Amazon," he said.

The report also showed that 1 in 4 Utahns say they would be interested in living in downtown Salt Lake City, which is impacting demand for housing downtown, Mathis said.

"While apartments are being built in record time in and around downtown, there is still real demand for residential development in downtown, (and) this impacts everything else," he said.

Affordability is also an issue civic leaders need to monitor closely as development continues in the years ahead, Mathis said.

Regarding culture, downtown Salt Lake City's long-term success may hinge on continuing to offer strong arts and entertainment options, he said.

"Our research indicates this is a key driver for vibrance and economic activity," Mathis said. Email: Twitter: JasenLee1


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