Webb Wrap: Post-pandemic, will downtown Salt Lake City come back to life?

It’s obvious that the COVID-19 pandemic is going to bring about a number of permanent changes in society. Just how big those changes will be is still unknown.

For example, we don’t know how many people will return to work in traditional office settings once it is safe to do so. We don’t know how dramatically buying patterns have been permanently altered. We don’t know if bricks-and-mortar retail stores will ever flourish again, given the ease and convenience of on-line purchasing.

This is all very relevant to the future of downtown Salt Lake City, where I’ve worked for some 45 years and have lived for more than 13 years, until recently moving out. For the last several months, downtown has seemed like a ghost town. I personally believe we need a busy and thriving downtown.

And I believe downtown will eventually come back, but it will be different. Once it is safe to gather again, basketball fans will return to the Vivint Smart Home Arena. Theatre and music aficionados will return to downtown venues. Restaurants and bars will do good business. The Salt Palace will host conferences and conventions. Temple Square and conferences of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will attract tens of thousands of people.

It will take longer for the office buildings to fill back up, as some percentage of employees will permanently work from homes or remote locations. Rural Utah could benefit. And the future of retail stores and shops remains cloudy.

But downtown Salt Lake City has two big things going for it, providing optimism that it will eventually recover. First, an abundance of housing exists downtown and more is being built — and filled up. Downtown is a great place for young professionals and empty-nesters. Once people can get out of their apartments or condos and mingle, life will return to downtown streets.

Second, Utah’s overall population continues to grow rapidly. Eventually, even with some percentage of employees working from remote locations, those empty offices will be filled.

So, we have reason to believe downtown SLC will recover. The big cranes and construction crews are still busy erecting new high-rise buildings. That signifies optimism by investors and developers that downtown will one day, once again, flourish.

Good Reads. Democrats have been remarkably united the past few years – united against Donald Trump. But with Trump gone, party leaders are warning each other that they must come up with something other than just being anti-Trump to keep their coalition together. Or they will risk losing seats in 2022 and 2024. Jonathan Easley covers it all for The Hill.

Will the Biden administration and Congress come up with bipartisan infrastructure funding in the next Congress? Experts say there’s a chance, but it will be difficult (Route Fifty).

Political People. I’m hearing through the grapevine that Mike Mower will stick with state government in the Cox administration. That’s good news. We need a “happy warrior” hanging out at the Capitol.

Parting shot. The Libertas Institute is using the COVID-19 crisis and Gov. Herbert’s executive orders to raise money. With the health care system overwhelmed, hundreds of people dying, and nurses exhausted and in tears, it seems a bit crass and insensitive.

The email fundraising pitch acknowledges that “while COVID-19 is certainly a cause for concern,” Herbert’s response is “heavy-handed” and that “good intentions often lead to the most egregious violations of liberty.”

It says the Libertas Institute’s resources are limited and it needs to immediately raise $5,000 to “fight back” and work with legislators to restrain the “authority of health officials and the governor” in the next legislative session. It asks for donations ranging from $25 to $250 “or any amount you can generously afford before tomorrow”.

I have no problem with advocacy groups raising money. This pitch just seems a bit tone deaf, given the crisis we’re in.

If you have a comment, an item you think should be publicized, or just want to tell me I’m nuts, shoot me a message at [email protected].