Mayor outlines big future for Main Street, families in Salt Lake City in annual report
Jan 30, 2024, 9:13 PM | Updated: Jan 31, 2024, 6:12 am
(Jeff Allred, Deseret News)
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s capital is now more populated than it has ever been and its growth has no signs of slowing down anytime soon, something that may have all started with a nudge from the 2002 Winter Olympics and Paralympics.
So, with the prospect of a second Winter Olympics exactly 10 years away, Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall says she believes the city is poised for another major boost. But her vision for the future of the city, which she outlined Tuesday evening in her annual State of the City address, goes beyond the next year or next decade.
The mayor, who was sworn into her second term earlier this month, says her goal over the next four years is to “lay the foundation” for the next 50 years by implementing more of the Second Century Plan that city leaders adopted in 1962 to outline goals for the next 100 years of the city’s existence.
“Our momentum is only growing, in reach and intensity,” she said, speaking inside the Grand Lobby of the Eccles Theater on Main Street. “We are setting the stage for not just tomorrow, but for the next 10 years, 20 years and even 50 years.”
The future of downtown
Downtown Salt Lake City was a constant theme of the evening.
Mendenhall’s vision includes turning Main Street into a walkable promenade following four years of testing the Open Street program where the streets are temporarily closed off to cars. Those weekends, according to the city, generated an impact of about $53 million during 116 collective days over the past four years, while downtown sales during the first three Open Streets events jumped by an average of 19% compared to 2019.
Comprehensive study results, including a conceptual design of the plan, and cost estimate, are expected to be sent to the Salt Lake City Council in the coming weeks, Mendenhall said. She added that she is looking forward to “a robust discussion and a forthcoming budget proposal” tied to the project soon.
The project is one of the few things planned for downtown, which is on pace to double in population in the coming years. That includes more multifamily and single-unit projects that aim to mold downtown into the community it was before families began fleeing into the suburbs in the 1960s.
Meanwhile, Salt Lake City leaders intend to keep downtown Salt Lake City at the forefront of commerce, finance, faith, culture and sport across the region. Dee Brewer, executive director of the Salt Lake City Downtown Alliance, called these all “major drivers in our economy.”
“The downtown social economy is thriving and opportunities to build on this momentum are multiplying with active efforts to secure the Winter Olympic Games, Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League teams,” he said.
To that end, Mendenhall said the city is committed to keeping the Utah Jazz in downtown Salt Lake City amid rekindled reports that team governor Ryan Smith had explored a future stadium outside city limits. She said the Jazz playing downtown is “what is best for the state.”
The same goes for efforts to snag NHL and MLB teams, led by Smith and the Larry H. Miller Company respectively. While a potential future MLB stadium would be located outside of downtown, Steve Starks, CEO of the Miller Company, said earlier this month that the project would serve as a “supplement” to downtown’s growth.
“We are building a catalytic future for downtown that not only embraces our growth but seizes the opportunity to cement our identity as the center for sports, entertainment and culture in our state,” Mendenhall said.
Housing and families
While most of her speech painted a bright future for Utah’s capital city, Mendenhall also spent a great deal addressing issues impacting the city, especially affordable housing and homelessness.
Statewide chronic homelessness rose 27% between 2022 and 2023, and Salt Lake County found a 10% increase in people experiencing homelessness for the first time over the past fiscal year.
There’s a growing need for year-round shelter options for people experiencing homelessness, Mendenhall said. She said she’s “hopeful” that the Utah Legislature will approve funding for two “non-congregate shelters, two low-barrier shelters (and) funding for a statewide winter response,” along with funds for deeply affordable housing that Gov. Spencer Cox requested.
She added that it will take “years” for the city to catch up to its growing housing demand. More than $38 million in city funds are slated to go toward constructing or purchasing units that would improve the city’s affordable housing stock to chip away at this deficit.
Families were another theme in this year’s address. Mendenhall said she’s directed various city entities to focus on “family opportunities” with forthcoming city-backed projects, such as the redevelopment of Fleet Block and the renovation of the old city public safety building.
And as the cost of child care services rises, she said the city’s economic development department will work to create a new loan program that will seek to “sustain and stimulate” child care service businesses in the city. On a similar note, the City Council is reviewing a plan to adjust zoning codes that would remove barriers to child care businesses in the city.
Other odds and ends
A few other projects were brought up in Mendenhall’s 50-minute speech:
- The mayor said she hopes the Green Loop, a 5-mile park space circling the downtown, will be completed in time for the 2034 Winter Olympics, even if she believes her administration “won’t see the opening.”
- The city is developing a five-year “action plan” to continue to conserve water, including changes to the city’s top water users to improve water efficiency. A report is expected to be released “in the coming days” that will outline ways to better conserve water at city-owned facilities.
- Salt Lake City expects to finalize a plan to send 13 billion gallons of reclaimed water to the struggling Great Salt Lake every year, fulfilling a goal that the mayor called for in her speech last year.
- The city will launch this year’s e-bike and landscaping equipment exchange programs in the early summer.
While the event took place downtown, Mendenhall also hopes that the momentum at the heart of the city carries into other neighborhoods. The mayor also outlined goals for other parts of the city during her speech, including the opening of the first phase of Glendale Regional Park that will take place later this year.
The future of Smith’s Ballpark is being sorted out, but the Bees could remain in the facility over the next few years if the Oakland Athletics make a temporary home at Daybreak in South Jordan before moving to Las Vegas.
There are also several roadway projects in the works across the city slated for this year, as the last of the projects tied to the 2018 Funding Our Future road bond wraps up.
“We remain determined in our work to build a mighty path for this great city, a path forward that is taking us to new opportunities and strengthening our quality of life with every step we take,” Mendenhall said. “I am animated by our legacy and these generational opportunities for Salt Lake City. These opportunities are accelerating toward us at great speed.”