As Salt Lake City’s leaders talked about the new skyscrapers being built downtown, and honored people who have helped improve the city, an author and urban expert argued in favor of making cities fun.
Peter Kageyama, author of the “For The Love of Cities,” told the people assembled for the Downtown Alliance’s annual “State of Downtown” event Thursday that cities have to do the basics — like fixing potholes, which often are residents’ most frequent complaint — but that creating truly livable and vibrant cities requires an element of fun.
Kageyama said it’s worth investing in public art projects, such as murals, which downtown Salt Lake City has in abundance. He cited Denver’s “big blue bear,” a massive public sculpture that creates a specific sense of place.
“If we’re going to take downtown to the next level, that means taking stuff to the next level,” Kageyama said in the event’s keynote speech. He mentioned Gallivan Center as what “seems like a natural gathering place in the heart of your downtown. What can we do with that? How can we make it more fun? That’s a good question to start with.”
Creating spaces to have fun was part of the Downtown Alliance’s annual report.
The entertainment sector is bouncing back after the COVID-19 pandemic, the alliance’s report said. It’s projected that 3 million tickets to downtown performances will be sold by the end of the year, and 900,000 visitors will come through downtown with the return of summer festivals — such as Living Traditions, Utah Pride Festival, the Utah Arts Festival, the Days of ‘47 Parade, and Brewstillery.
The alliance is bringing back Open Streets, a program tried during the pandemic, to block Main Street from South Temple to 400 South to auto traffic during summer weekends for street performances, music and restaurant dining on the sidewalks. The 2022 version of the program starts Memorial Day weekend, and runs through Labor Day.
Work is still underway to move the Downtown Farmers Market from Pioneer Park into the Rio Grande building to create a permanent, year-round public market similar to Seattle’s Pike Place Market or San Francisco’s Ferry Station.
And while downtown visits are bouncing back to pre-pandemic levels — with an expected 3 million people visiting downtown by the end of the year — out-of-town investors and entrepreneurs who want to open bars and restaurants downtown are being hobbled by a lack of liquor licenses.
Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall spoke about the explosion in growth that the city is experiencing and touched on the benefits of that, as well as the challenges ahead, including adding affordable housing and green space for residents.
Downtown Alliance executive director Dee Brewer noted that there 11 major buildings are now under construction downtown — including Astra Tower, at 200 South and State St., which at 450 feet high will be Salt Lake City’s tallest skyscraper when it’s completed in 2024. (The current holder of that record, the Wells Fargo Building, is 422 feet tall.)
Other buildings now under construction are:
• Sundial Tower at 477 Main Street.
• 465 Main, a 15-story residential tower.
• Domain Tower, a mixed-use development at 370 S. West Temple.
• West Quarter, Phase 2, another mixed-use building at 200 W. 125 South.
• Le Meridien, a hotel at 131 S. 300 West, across from Vivint Smart Home Arena.
• The Charles, an apartment complex on 100 South.
• 160 South Main, another residential tower, which will be 31 stories tall.
• Asher Adams, a hotel at 20 S. 400 West.
• Moda Luxe, a residential development at 242 S. 200 East.
• The Worthington, at 200 E. 300 South, another 31-story apartment complex.
This year, downtown is adding 800,000 square feet of office space, with the 650 South Main and 95 State buildings. The ongoing development of the Granary district and influx in tech and life sciences companies are both contributing to a huge surge in downtown growth, the report said.
The residential population downtown is expected to double in the next three years, the report added, as a number of apartment complexes come online — 10,000 additional residents by 2024, moving into nearly 4,000 new apartments or condos.
The cost to live downtown is rising; downtown single-family housing has gone up 25% as compared to 2019. Meanwhile, the average monthly rent downtown is $1,400.
The alliance is touting a super transit corridor at 200 South, that it says will help ease traffic congestion as more people move downtown. City planners also are looking at new TRAX connections along 400 West that would connect the Ballpark and Central Station neighborhoods to the University of Utah campus.
Thursday’s event also paid tribute to people who have worked to make the city better. One of those is former Salt Lake Tribune food reporter Kathy Stephenson, who retired last year and was applauded for her coverage of the Utah food scene.
Stephenson was praised for her coverage of Jorge Fierro, owner of the Rico bean and tortilla plant. Fierro’s business was displaced by downtown gentrification. After an article brought attention to his plight, he was able to find a new building for his business.
Other awardees included Russell Weeks — also a former Tribune reporter — for his decades of work as a city planner with the Salt Lake City Corporation; musician Norbert Bueno, founder of nonprofit arts organization Social Antidote; Cowboy Partners and the Boyer Company, developers of the Liberty SKY apartments; and Downtown Ambassadors, who provide outreach to the city’s homeless population, among other things.