Salt Lake City will again close portions of Main Street to welcome shoppers, diners and pedestrians and help them maintain social distancing, in a revival of last year’s Downtown SLC Open Streets program.
Starting Memorial Day weekend, the street will close to vehicles from South Temple to 400 South, evenings from Thursday to Saturday. Open Streets introduced similar closures in an effort to support local businesses last fall, as cases of the coronavirus began to surge.
The Downtown Alliance is leading the initiative this summer, inviting Utahns to Salt Lake City for shopping, dining and to see buskers and pop-up performances, it said in a news release.
“This is not a street festival or a block party, but rather an expansion of Main Street pedestrian options to allow residents and visitors the space to enjoy the energy of downtown,” the alliance said.
The group may ask the city to make Main Street a permanent pedestrian mall when the pandemic is over, FOX 13 reports.
“We often joke if you’re driving on Main Street in downtown you’re probably not from here,” Dee Brewer, executive director of the Downtown Alliance, told FOX 13. “It is not an efficient thoroughfare. But it’s a fantastic gathering place.”
The idea of turning Main Street into a year-round pedestrian zone is something Salt Lake City officials have discussed with stakeholders since the pandemic began, according to Ben Kolander, the city’s director of economic development.
“This was in the back of our mind,” Kolander said. “It was so supported by local establishments, restaurants and property owners, and in general those who came downtown … that it took off quickly in terms of support.”
First, the city will need to figure a system of permanent barriers that protect pedestrians from the TRAX line that runs the length of the street. It will also need to develop a system that allows trucks to enter the pedestrian zone during certain times of the day to drop off deliveries for businesses.
At a City Council meeting last week, Mayor Erin Mendenhall said she will also seek a six-month ordinance that continues current expanded outdoor dining and retail options throughout the city.
The Utah Legislature’s pandemic “endgame” bill, HB294, means the mayor’s 2020 emergency proclamations that granted businesses the option to operate in the public right-of-way will expire, along with all pandemic-related orders, when Utah has received a total of 1.63 million first doses of vaccines. As of Wednesday, that total stands at 1.2 million first doses.
“A lot of our businesses don’t see recovery as ending right when the pandemic ends or when the Legislature says it ends,” Kolander said.
Many businesses took on debt to survive shutdowns and reduced customer capacity, he added. Allowing business to serve patrons in the city’s public spaces — such as dining bubbles and retail tents on sidewalks — gives restaurants and shops an opportunity to generate more revenue to shoulder that burden.
“If we had zero COVID cases tomorrow,” Kolander said, “there’s still a road for recovery for our businesses.”
Editor’s note: The Salt Lake Tribune and FOX 13 are content-sharing partners.