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Downtown SLCs 'Open Streets' success prompts push to permanently close Main Street to traffic

Posted at 3:54 PM, Nov 19, 2021

SALT LAKE CITY — Over the summer, Main Street closed again to traffic from South Temple to 400 South in an experiment called "Open Streets."

The chunk of downtown Salt Lake City became a pedestrian plaza. Restaurants and bars were able to expand out onto the sidewalk. Buskers and DJs staged performances.

The idea was created to help businesses emerge from the pandemic. It's become such a hit over the past two years, downtown boosters are pushing Salt Lake City leaders to permanently close the four-block section of Main Street to traffic.

"We would love to see permanent the pedestrian promenade that invites people downtown every single day, and is a destination in and of itself," Dee Brewer, the executive director of the Downtown Alliance, told FOX 13.

Open Streets

Brewer said they found every weekend anywhere from 33,000 to 43,000 people on Main Street for Open Streets. Over the course of the summer, more than a half-million people attended.

"It brought a huge energy and buzz to downtown Salt Lake and Main Street," said Matt Crandall, the executive chef of The Bourbon Group, which runs Whiskey Street and White Horse.

Crandall said their restaurants and bars were "packed every single night" and they saw a 20% increase in business from it.

The Downtown Alliance said a lot of businesses on Main (and even surrounding it) saw increases in customers above pre-pandemic levels in 2019. Bolstered by that, they are making plans for a permanent pedestrian plaza.

"Imagine a streetscape where we take the curbs out and there is new planting and new curbs and new places to sit and sidewalk dining is extended well into what we now know as just the sidewalks," Brewer said. "We are going to create that promenade experience that you experience in some of your favorite cities around the world."

It would be similar in concept to Denver's 16th Street Mall, where trains still run through it, but it's closed to vehicles (except for cross traffic at intersections). Delivery trucks can still make stops in designated zones. Brewer estimated about 50 parking spots would be lost on Main Street.

"We often say if you’re driving on Main Street then you’re not from around here," he said.

The idea of making Main Street a pedestrian plaza isn't new. The Downtown Alliance found plans from 1962 that envisioned it happening — by 1985. Brewer said making it happen this time around won't happen immediately.

"We are going to produce open streets in 2022. We are also pursuing funding and a study on the infrastructure on Main Street and the changes that we can make to make permanent this pedestrian promenade," Brewer said.

Closing Main Street would need the blessing of city leaders. Brewer said city council members have expressed excitement at the idea. In a statement to FOX 13 on Friday, Mayor Erin Mendenhall suggested she was open to it.

"Open Streets is a great example of the things that can happen when you innovate, and try something new. It was a unique opportunity for so many to experience downtown Salt Lake City in a new way, with more space to explore, shop and dine at locally owned businesses," she said. "We're looking forward to continuing to explore this activation on Main Street and are enthusiastic about where we could take it in the future."

Crandall said he would love to see it be permanent, and is excited to see Open Streets return next year.

"It brought a lot of people out that normally won’t come to Main Street because it’s hard parking, it’s one way traffic," he said. "It really brought a lot of life down here."