Salt Lake leaders celebrate 10 years of great strides, but hope for more
By McKenzie Romero, Deseret News -- SALT LAKE CITY — Ten years into the campaign to revitalize Salt Lake City's once disparate and crumbling downtown, local leaders applauded the strides that have been made as well as work that remains to be done.
Marking the initiative's 10-year anniversary, Natalie Gochnour, an associate dean in the University of Utah's David Eccles School of Business, recalled the condition the city found itself in back in 2006 when the Salt Lake Chamber and a few business leaders mapped out a plan for a financial infusion into downtown.
Light rail was snaking through the city, but construction was too slow, leaving businesses to suffer on closed streets. Road work that cut I-15 down to just two lanes meant a harrowing commute in and out of the city and dried up the flow of visitors. Boarded up buildings dotted Main Street like so many "missing teeth," she said.
Meanwhile, ideas about the city's future were splintered between a number of competing visions.
"We had to come together and do something right for this city," Gochnour said. "We got on the same page and identified signature projects that would make this city fulfill its potential. We're well into it now at our 10-year anniversary."
Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Lane Beattie shared his praise for the important strides, including housing that has sprung up, business development, light rail expansion and connecting the University of Utah to downtown.
"How exciting that we are anything but through with this project," Beattie said. "Even with this progress we see in many downtown priorities, much work still remains."
Standing atop the Walker Center, against the backdrop of a crane hoisting panels up the nearly completed 111 Main office tower and with the sound of clanging construction echoing up from the George S. and Dolores Dore Eccles Theater, Gochnour and Beattie see a flourishing city.
The two projects are part of a dozen development initiatives either underway or in the pipeline as Salt Lake continues to rise. They include four housing developments, mixed hotel and condo space in the new Regent Street Hotel, and infrastructure projects on Regent Street, in the Station Center area near the Rio Grande Depot and at the Salt Lake City International Airport.
Officials, including Gov. Gary Herbert and the mayors of Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County, met on the roof of the Walker Center with the leaders who developed the Downtown Rising vision and helped carry it out over the past decade. There they called for continued committment to making Utah's urban center a vibrant and thriving hub that can lift much of the state.
Jason Mathis, Downtown Alliance executive program director, spelled out a three-pronged approach for Downtown Rising as the initiative pushes on: creating a hub for tech innovation business, bringing new and diverse options into the housing market, and fostering art, culture and sporting attractions.
The alliance has launched an online survey to allow Utahns to weigh in on their priorities for downtown development, available at downtownrising.com. A series of open houses and focus groups will also be conducted throughout the state, Mathis said, to be included in the group's recommendations for downtown coming at the end of the year.
As work continues, Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski stressed a focus on inclusion, ensuring that the area remains "a downtown for everyone."
The mayor also emphasized a need for careful and considerate efforts to care for the city's homeless population, aligning city, county, state and private support behind a data-driven effort to provide services.
"A key element to our downtown's growth has been our response to the homeless crisis that has greatly impacted our city for several years now," Biskupski said.
Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams reaffirmed the county's ongoing commitment to the "united effort" investing in the state's urban center. He applauded support to area theaters and heralded the prospect of a future convention hotel.