Salt Lake City skyline on Thursday, Aug. 20, 2020.

Carter Williams, KSL.com, File

Report: Downtown Salt Lake headed for growth despite losing millions in visitor spending from COVID-19

By Lauren Bennett, KSL.com | Posted - Jan. 19, 2021 at 7:01 p.m.



SALT LAKE CITY — Despite setbacks — including a devastating windstorm, an earthquake and a pandemic – downtown Salt Lake City continues to grow, according to data released by the Downtown Alliance Tuesday in its 2020 State of Downtown report.

"Salt Lake City is well-positioned among western U.S. cities to attract talent, employers and capital," Kim Abrams, a vice president at Goldman Sachs, said during the online event broadcast from the Capitol Theatre.

The report notes the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is not fully known yet and therefore isn't fully represented in the data.

"We've all obviously felt the impact of the pandemic, but a few industries were hit hardest," said Ty Burrell, "Modern Family" actor and local bar owner. While many industries based downtown suffered as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, restaurants and bars faced the brunt of it, Burrell said.

Several programs sponsored by the alliance and other Salt Lake City-based organizations were created in an effort to offset the impacts of the novel coronavirus restrictions, including the "Tip Your Server" initiative, sponsored in part by Burrell, which helped raised more than $655,000 to aid service workers.

The "Open Streets" pilot program, which closed Main Street to car traffic and offered a pedestrian-friendly space, ran from September through October and helped local businesses see a much-needed increase in foot-traffic.

In May, the program is coming back thanks to the success of its pilot program, said Dee Brewer, executive director of the alliance.

"We believe Main Street can be a vibrant pedestrian promenade," Brewer said. To encourage local spending downtown, the "Downtown Dollars" program was also created, allowing individuals to essentially buy a gift card online, get bonus bucks, and then use the funds at participating businesses.

It wasn't just downtown bars and restaurants that suffered; new travel and health recommendations dramatically cut the area's hospitality and tourism revenue, with 65 large conventions, meetings and athletic events canceled in 2020 and some $99 million in visitor spending lost, according to Visit Salt Lake data cited in the report.

However, things are looking up for the area in 2021 with the completion of the 700-room Hyatt Regency Salt Lake City convention center slated for this year, hopefully attracting more conventions to the area in the coming years. According to the report, more than 2 million square footage downtown is under construction, with new office spaces, residential apartments and hotels all being built. Several large projects will continue into 2021, including work on 300 West, West Temple and across State Street, Brewer said.

Construction and real estate costs are being driven up, in part, by Utah's booming economy and the increasing population, the alliance reported. Additionally, economic uncertainty fueled by the pandemic has lessened demand for office spaces. Despite these challenges, the alliance is confident the city's cheaper lease rates (when compared with neighboring states' downtown areas), among other things, will keep office-space demand high and ultimately drive business to the area. In 2019, occupied downtown office space increased and vacancy decreased from 13.9% to 11.4%, according to the report.

As part of Tuesday's event, multiple businesses received a downtown achievement award including the 4th Street Clinic, which has provided health care service to the area's homeless population for more than 30 years. In 2020, the clinic adapted its services to include screening and treating homeless individuals for COVID-19.

Caputo's Market, Plan-B Theatre, GIV Development, and Domain Companies were all also recognized with a downtown achievement award.

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