SALT LAKE CITY — New York, London, Paris … Salt Lake City?
Major players in downtown's burgeoning real estate market waxed bullish on the city's future last week, predicting rising cachet for Utah's capital and an elevated presence, regionally and beyond.
The driving force behind the optimism is an unprecedented infusion of development capital in the central business district, some $5 billion from 2005-2012, anchored by the Mormon church-financed City Creek Center, and a local economy that, while depressed, has outperformed much of the rest of the country.
The early fruits of those investments are coming online now, with the first residents moving into the posh, just-completed Richards Court condominium towers at City Creek, new businesses opening their doors throughout the downtown core and the owners of the futuristic new 222 Main high-rise luring super-tenant Goldman Sachs.
At a panel discussion hosted by Salt Lake City's Downtown Alliance last week, Jim Tozer, president of the New York-based Vectra Management Group, said Utah's capital city was ready to step into its new role as a home base for corporate heavy-hitters and that it was time to dedicate resources to getting the word out.
"It's location, location, location, and Salt Lake is the location," Tozer said. "We should be competitive with anybody and everybody."
Tozer's company specializes in refurbishing older buildings and breathed new life into downtown's historic Walker Center building in a top-down renovation completed in 2008.
Jeff Edwards, president of the Economic Development Corporation of Utah, said the Goldman Sachs move and expansion from its current location at University of Utah's Research Park to downtown could portend a bigger trend — and one that would bode well for the city.
"As we see the national office market coming back, we couldn't be better positioned," Edwards said.
Panelists agreed that the $1.5 billion spent by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on the 23-acre City Creek project, at a time when banks and investment institutions nationwide were bailing out of projects at a record clip, has not only buoyed the local economy throughout the recession, but also allowed downtown Salt Lake City to experience an epic evolution at a time when many cities are still seeking solutions to foundering economies.
U. economist Jim Wood said the LDS Church's decision to finance the City Creek project could not have been more opportune.
"We are so fortunate to have the church make that kind of investment in this market downtown. … It shows a lot of long-term foresight," Wood said. "The timing couldn't have been better. The economy went south just as they started ramping up. We really lucked out there."
Wood said the new vibrancy that comes with the money invested in and around Salt Lake City's business core is a positive force that extends beyond city limits.
"I really think that downtown is a vital component of the Utah economy," Wood said. "If you have a dying downtown, a la Detroit, it can really drag things down in a much wider geographic area."
Zions Bank economist Jeff Thredgold said he expects the National Bureau of Economic Research to soon declare the recession officially ended, and Salt Lake is poised perfectly to capitalize on a rebounding economy.
"City Creek is the biggest downtown real estate project in the country," Thredgold said. "We've had the benefit of all the jobs associated with its construction and that of 222 Main … and now, there are reasons to be optimistic about the economy, and the data is getting better. City Creek is going to be a very attractive centerpiece and is likely to be very successful."
Mark Bouchard, senior managing partner at CB Richard Ellis, said the mechanism behind Salt Lake City's downtown evolution would one day be looked at as "legendary" and the city is emerging into a new era of prominence.
"Salt Lake City's really one of the shining stars in the world today of how to get things done," Bouchard said. "And how to do things right."