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The business community helps shape downtown: choosing a path for growth.


Choosing a Path for Growth

Of all groups with an interest in downtown Salt Lake City, none has more at stake than business owners. After all, their livelihood is directly tied to downtown's fortunes. That's why it's not surprising that business owners are increasingly involved with downtown development, as exemplified by the recent formation of the Downtown Alliance.

After several years of little activity, downtown development has blossomed the past two years. One Utah Center at Second S. and Main, Salt Lake's largest privately-owned office building, and the Broadway Center, at Third S. and State, are examples of a fledgling vitality that's now being seen throughout the downtown. The new home of the Utah Jazz--the Delta Center; the expansion of the ZCMI Mall; and the new state office building on Third S., between State and Second E., are more examples. The promised renovation of the Salt Palace Convention Center should prove an added spur to both development and convention business.

The new building activity is welcomed by many because the downtown did not do well during the 1980s. A widely-held view among downtown merchants is that things started going downhill when the ZCMI and Crossroads malls opened and shifted most retailing to South Temple, leaving Main Street to whither and die. One downtown merchant, who didn't want to be quoted by name, said: "It's absolutely ridiculous what's happened to the downtown. It started when they built the two malls. We have nothing left but chain stores."

Michael Wagreich, owner of the Village Ltd., a men's clothing store located next to the Capitol Theatre, notes: "Putting Crossroads Mall across from ZCMI retarded the growth of downtown. It overweighted the scales too heavily at the corner of South Temple and Main."

Southern Anchor

A proposed state courts complex, to be located just to the west or just to the north of the City-County Building, is viewed as an essential "anchor" for the south end of downtown to balance downtown's development. The Downtown Alliance, for one, has made this a very a high priority, says the group's chairman, John Schumann, who is also president of Schumann Capital Management. The Alliance is a nonprofit planning and economic-promotion group made up of businesses.

"If you don't develop both ends of town, how can the middle be healthy?" asks Wagreich. "If you develop both ends, the middle automatically starts to perk up."

No doubt, the middle needs some perking up. Main Street, once the area's retail hub, is now characterized by boarded-up store fronts and vacant lots.

Bret Cunningham, immediate past president of the Downtown Retail Merchants Association, and controller of Dahle Management Corp., which owns Dahle's Big & Tall clothing stores, says the merchants would like to see downtown capture 40 percent of the retail business done in Salt Lake and Davis counties. He estimates that downtown's retail market share is now in the 25 to 30 percent range of the retail activity in both counties.

Parking a Key Factor

To capture more retail market share, the business community is working to make downtown a more desirable place. An issue on everyone's mind is parking. Unlike many cities, however, Salt Lake does not lack for downtown parking.

Sidney Fonnesbeck, former city council person and director of training and communications for the Utah League of Cities and Towns, says the widely publicized RUDAT (Regional Urban Design Assistance Team) study found Salt Lake had excessive parking. "It's not that we don't have parking, it's that it's not as convenient as people think it ought to be," she says.

The Downtown Alliance would like to see 30 percent of downtown's parking spaces available for short-term parking. Skip Daynes, president of the Retail Merchants Association and president of Daynes Music, a piano and music dealership, estimates that currently only 15 to 20 percent of the parking is available to the shopper and other short-term user. The remainder is reserved for downtown workers and other long-term users.

In part, parking is more of a perceived problem than a parking one. "There is an attitude problem in Salt Lake with people wanting to park for free at the exact spot where they're going," says Alison Gregersen, acting director of the Downtown Alliance.

According to Fonnesbeck, at a RUDAT meeting where people complained about the inconvenience of downtown parking, a member of the study committee commented: "I can't believe that you're descendants of people who walked across the plains pulling handcarts behind them. Why can't you visualize yourself walking a few extra feet?"

To help those willing to walk, signs have recently been hung, at the urging of the business community, which clearly highlight where parking is available. There's an attempt by such business groups as the Retail Merchants Association to implement a universal validation program, where all parking validation stickers can be used at any downtown lot.

Panhandling and Pollution

Panhandling and vagrants are also an issue with the business community. The city is considering adopting an ordinance to limit "aggressive" panhandling. Richard Hazel, director of business development for the Salt Lake Area Chamber of Commerce, recently surveyed business owners in the Pioneer Park area and found, perhaps not surprisingly, that transients were one of their major concerns. More telling, this is a relatively recent concern, just within the past few years. It's the result of several service organizations locating near the park. Ten years ago, transients weren't as serious a problem in the area, says Hazel. This illustrates the need to constantly update planning issues for the downtown because neighborhoods can change and problems can develop.

Even the problem of air pollution has changed over the years. Certainly, air pollution downtown is still an issue. In fact, 20 years ago downtown was the focus of the area's pollution problems, according to Mick Crandall, program director of the Wasatch Front Regional Council. "Now it appears we have more of an areawide issue, so there's a little less focus now on downtown," he says.


Much government and business activity has left downtown, and many view this as a problem. "One of the greatest mistakes we've made in the last 20 years was having the county move its headquarters out to 2100 S.," says John Williams, president of Gastronomy, a restaurant chain that includes the New Yorker and Market Street Grill. Since downtown is the center for transportation, government, and business, having Salt Lake County headquarters away from the downtown leads to inefficiencies. Those doing business with the county have to use their cars more because of the complex's location, claims Williams.

The Triad Center and Larry Miller's Delta Center are viewed as mistakes by the Village Ltd.'s Wagreich for similar reasons. He thinks these projects would have been better put in the southern end of the downtown to strengthen that part of town, rather than off to the west where they sit practically by themselves.

"The most critical thing facing Salt Lake City," says Williams, "is that to have vitality we need density." A quick look around Salt Lake's downtown makes clear that density is not one of its prime characteristics. Parking lots and garages take up a lot of downtown land, yet don't contribute to the economic and cultural vibrancy of the area. "If you look at a map of downtown, it's just amazing how much of it is hard-surface parking," comments Fonnesbeck.

The Cultural Heart of the Valley

A number of choices during the past 25 years have given downtown a strong foundation on which its vibrancy and energy can be built. Widely applauded by such groups as RUDAT is the construction of Symphony Hall and the Salt Palace and Convention Center and the restoration of the Capitol Theatre. These have concentrated cultural and convention activities in the heart of the city. The LDS church has made downtown the valley's tourism center with its development of Temple Square. And the new Utah One Center and Broadway Center office buildings are tangible signs that downtown is once again growing.

Gregersen of the Downtown Alliance says plans are underway to hold a weekly farmer's market starting in mid 1992 and, perhaps, a midwinter carnival in 1993. These are designed to bring people to the downtown and help create street life. A light-rail system terminating in the downtown is being seriously discussed, which could transform downtown into a major regional transportation hub.

Williams, of Gastronomy, and others consider housing essential to creating a lively, appealing downtown. "Great downtowns have residential areas located in or very near them," says Williams. He cites San Francisco and Vancouver, B.C., as examples.

The stalled housing project on Block 49, east of Pioneer Park, is something that, if completed, would help bring people back to downtown. Its fate is still uncertain. "We're trying to determine what to do with it," says Alice Steiner, executive director of the Redevelopment Agency of Salt Lake City.

The nearly vacant block immediately east of Triad is another question mark. The RDA, which owns 25 percent of it, is considering selling out to the LDS church, which owns the remainder of the block. The Church has not announced its intentions for the block.

The Downtown Alliance, the Retail Merchants Association, the Salt Lake Area Chamber of Commerce, and interested business owners throughout the downtown will play important roles in what happens in the city's core. Groups like the Downtown Alliance and the Retail Merchants Association are actively trying to influence public policy and development efforts. While opinions vary greatly on how downtown needs to develop, business will have a great deal to say about it.

PHOTO : City planners and the private sector are shaping the growth and new appearance of downtown Salt Lake City.

Based in Salt Lake City, Alan Horowitz writes about business and computer topics.
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Salt Lake City, Utah
Author:Horowitz, Alan S.
Publication:Utah Business
Date:Oct 1, 1991
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