Salt Lake City to close parts of Main Street for weekend revelry — at a safe distance

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Main Street in Salt Lake City between 300 and 400 South on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. The city is going to close Main Street to vehicles between 300 and 400 South Thursday-Saturday (from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.) until Oct. 10, in hopes of activating foot traffic and making social distancing easier for the street's bars, restaurants and other businesses.

Salt Lake City wants to add some energy to downtown on the weekends through early October.

Utah’s capital city will close portions of Main Street to vehicle traffic Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings from Sept. 17 to Oct. 10 in hopes of encouraging people to patronize downtown businesses, enticing them with discounted parking and new live music and art at spots between Exchange Place and City Creek Center.

The first Main Street block to be closed to traffic will be 300 South and 400 South this weekend, leaving it open solely to pedestrians from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., under what the Salt Lake Chamber is calling its Downtown SLC Open Streets program.

More closures could follow as the program evolves, according to Downtown Alliance spokesman Ryan Mack, who said Tuesday, “We’ll play it by ear after that.”

Newly created spaces along Main Street for better social distancing are also to be enlivened with buskers and pop-up art installations, the alliance said —as well as new patio service areas for restaurants and bars along that stretch that are trying to shake off the pandemic’s damage to normal foot traffic.

Derek Miller, president and CEO of the chamber and its Downtown Alliance, pointedly said this wasn’t a street festival or block party. Instead, it expands options for pedestrians to give "visitors the space to enjoy the energy of downtown” — in hopes of bringing the area an economic jolt after months of COVID-19 slowdowns.

Physical distancing, face coverings, frequent splashes of hand sanitizer and other safety guidelines “are requested,” but not mandatory in open spaces, officials are saying — although under health mandates currently in place, restaurants and shops are requiring face masks upon entry.

Mike Askerlund, owner-manager of Alibi Bar & Place, 389 S. Main St., welcomed the street closures and plans for appealing activities to activate downtown, saying it will effectively double his capacity to handle customers by letting him extend his patio space to the curb.

“This will be extremely beneficial for business on Main Street,” said Askerlund, whose establishment has been open for two months and is fighting to recover. “It’s not super lucrative right now, but we’re open and we’re not digging a hole, which is important.”

The alliance is joining with Salt Lake City in the paid campaign to entice shoppers and diners, as numbers show they continue to only trickle back to their usual downtown routines. Officials acknowledge it’s a partnership aimed at keeping as many struggling businesses alive as possible through the health crisis.

More than six months into the pandemic, just under a quarter of city office workers are back at their pre-COVID-19 office locales. Hospitality and retail outlets, though they’ve returned to above 80% open, are still seeing their sales languish.

Hotel visits — a lifeline to downtown’s tourism and restaurant sector — are way below their usual levels, the report in late August indicates, although businesses are heartened that arrivals at Salt Lake City’s new $4.1 billion airport are starting to pick up.

Mayor Erin Mendenhall said that between COVID-19, the March earthquake and recent windstorms, downtown “has been dealt tremendous challenges” but remained “the heart and soul of Utah.”

She urged residents statewide to join in the upcoming activity along Main Street “as we safely begin to reactivate our vibrant and culturally diverse downtown core.”

Complimentary parking for two hours is available at City Creek Center those evenings and the parking garage at Gallivan Avenue is offering spots for $2.