Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY — Open Streets, the time when Main Street in downtown Salt Lake City is closed off for automobile traffic, was first implemented two years ago as a solution to help businesses looking for new outdoor space amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Yet, as the city's downtown leaders prepare for the pandemic's third year of existence, they're looking to make the idea permanent.
"We're in it for the long game," says Jessica Thesing, the director of the urban affairs for the Salt Lake City Downtown Alliance. "It's a big undertaking to do this as a special event and it's proving to be a concept for much-bigger ideas that the community has been floating around for a long time."
This year's Open Streets will look a bit different as it returns this weekend. It will be held Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from noon until bars close, which is slightly different from the evenings of Thursday, Friday and Saturday last year.
The goal of the shutdown won't change. Main Street merchants and restaurant owners from 400 South to South Temple will have the option to extend outdoor patio seating into the sidewalks, while performers and artists will be scattered across the few closed-off blocks.
The street will be closed off to cars but open for pedestrians and bicyclists. TRAX service is not impacted by this closure, either. Cars can still travel past Main Street on the streets that cross it, like 300 South.
"It will look very similar to what you've seen in the past. Really, the idea is to activate Main Street in such a way you would see or experience in any vibrant streetscape anywhere in the world," Thesing said. "That's really the idea here. It's not a street party, it's just a reactivation of a beloved street in our downtown."
This is the schedule for weekends through the end of June because that's how much money is left in the budget for the program. However, Thesing said the Downtown Alliance is looking for funds to continue the program through Labor Day weekend, as it did last year. She's optimistic that the program will be able to continue on weekends throughout the summer.
The cost of security and other regulatory elements are the biggest price tag. Barricades are needed to close off five intersections and those closures need to be monitored for safety, especially if people are walking around in the street. It is also necessary to open and close the road every day.
The entire program costs about $32,000 per week based on the 15-week average.
This could change in the future. Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall's list of 2022 goals includes a plan to convert Main Street into a permanent pedestrian promenade to "increase positive downtown activation and support local businesses." Downtown Alliance officials also promoted this during their annual downtown update earlier this month.
This would also eliminate the need for most of the security costs because of changes in the infrastructure.
Thesing points out the idea is something city officials have considered for Main Street in the past, dating back to 1962. It was just an idea floating around when the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2020, ultimately providing the Downtown Alliance an opportunity to actually test it.
The Downtown Alliance extended this test last summer since COVID-19 was still impacting downtown businesses. They're hopeful this year will be the strongest test yet as the pandemic's hold on the state isn't as severe as the first two Open Streets tests.
Downtown Salt Lake City is also on the verge of completely changing. The Downtown Alliance promoted the permanent idea after reporting that the residential population of the neighbor is expected to double in the next few years, which will change the complexity of downtown.
"We want to make sure that, going down this path, we are bringing the community with us," Thesing said. "We feel like this is a really great opportunity to start thinking about how Main Street could serve us and our community."
What's new in Salt Lake City
While the Downtown Alliance officials piece together those plans for the future — and the funds to keep Open Streets going throughout the summer — there are plenty of new businesses open for people this summer.
New retail added near downtown over the past year
- Alpine Art & Frame, 430 E. South Temple
- Cotton On Kids, City Creek Center at 51 S. Main
- HEXEH, 95 S. Rio Grande Street
- Janela Bay, City Creek Center at 51 S. Main
- Mineral & Matter, 177 E. 900 South
- Paper Source, City Creek Center at 51 S. Main
- Piper & Scoot, City Creek Center at 51 S. Main
- ShadowPlay, 171 E. 300 South
- Uniquely Utah Souvenir, 122 S. Main
- Under the Umbrella Bookstore, 511 W. 200 South
Bars and restaurants added near downtown since 2021
- Ascoli Espresso, 30 E. 300 South
- Boomerang's Bar and Grill, 160 S. Main
- Bourbon House, 19 E. 200 South
- Brick & Mortar, 228 S. Edison Street
- Cafe Juniper, 29 E. 400 South
- Cafe Rio Mexican Grill, City Creek Center at 51 S. Main
- Fenice, 126 S. Regent Street
- Flanker Kitchen and Sporting Club, 6 N. Rio Grande Street
- Graffiti Bao, 153 S. Rio Grande Street
- International, 342 S. State
- Ivy & Varley, 55 W. 100 South
- Karma, 122 W. Pierpont Avenue
- Monarca, 268 S. State
- Poke & Sushi Hut, 270 S. Main
- ROCTACO, 248 S. Edison Street
- The Capital Grille, 40 E. 100 South
- The RUIN, 159 S. Main
- Salt and Olive, 270 S. 300 East
- Shades on State, 366 S. State
- Tamarind, 120 S. Main
- Vitality Bowls, City Creek Center at 51 S. Main
- Why KiKi, 69 W. 100 South
- Italian Graffiti at The Gateway (June)
- New restaurant at City Creek (September)
- Unnamed meat-centric restaurant concept at Hope Gallery (September)
- Adelaide West Quarter (September)
- Edison House (November)
- LemonShark Poke (TBA)