SALT LAKE CITY — The effort to rejuvenate downtown is moving into a new phase, and this one envisions a more family-oriented urban landscape complete with a new grade school.
Local leaders Tuesday unveiled the 2017 Downtown Rising Action Plan during a news conference in the lobby of the Eccles Theater. The progress report and new goals outlined emerging trends and identified key objectives for continued downtown development that imagines a more family-friendly atmosphere with more community-minded amenities, explained Jason Mathis, executive director of the Downtown Alliance.
Among the various considerations, the long-term plan includes the development of a K-8 school that would cater to families desiring an urban lifestyle.
“We are going to look very aggressively at what it takes to build a charter school in the downtown area,” he said. “It would be (a place) where office workers could bring their kids to, and maybe there are some after-school programs, then they pick them up and go home.”
He said the school would be something that people who choose to live and raise their family in the downtown area could take advantage of. He added the school would be a symbol of the city entering into a new phase of its development.
“In the past, we haven’t really had too many families living downtown,” Mathis said. “Now that’s changing and we’re trying to (determine) the amenities we need to have and accelerate that change so that families can choose to have that as an option.”
A school is something in the five-to-seven-year plan of the downtown development strategy, Mathis noted. Originally launched in 2007, Downtown Rising is a consensus-driven, business-led strategy for prioritization and planning that will be updated annually, he said.
The seven newly announced priorities are: a downtown school; a sports and entertainment district that benefits The Gateway and Vivint Smart Home Arena; a cultural core place-making and programming effort; investment in transportation; a digital media and arts center; reinvesting in Pioneer Park with infrastructure and a public private management plan; and the development of a technology campus.
He noted that the action plan is list of priorities that would likely continue to evolve over time, as downtown’s needs change.
“We don’t intend to put this action plan on a shelf. Just like downtown, this plan is a living document,” Mathis said. “It lays out our ambitions and best thinking at this moment in time. But we reserve the right to make changes to the plan as our city evolves, based on new needs, updated information, best practices and even better thinking.”
For now, however, the main priorities were the development of an urban market and a “headquarter” lodging venue adjacent to the Salt Palace.
“There has never been a greater need for a convention center hotel than right now,” Mathis said. “As we look at the growth of downtown and the needs of the convention industry, if Outdoor Retailer chooses to leave, we will have to immediately begin to start working to backfill to bring in additional conventions. A convention center hotel is incredibly important for that.”
He said the hope would be to build a convention hotel near the Salt Palace Convention Center in the next three to five years. Officials said the current plan would be a public-private partnership, with as yet determined funding sources and design elements.
"Downtown Rising is unique because it is not a government-led initiative for city planning," said Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski. "Instead, it is an aspirational plan that includes the best thinking of developers, the business community, individual citizens and political leaders."
She noted that the report identified emerging trends including residential growth, increased development of the technology industry in downtown, a youthful workforce, cultural investments such as the Eccles Theater, additional investments in the sports and entertainment district at The Gateway and Vivint Smart Home Arena, along with Salt Lake City’s role as a world destination with the reconstruction of the international airport as well as a vibrant refugee and immigrant community.
“Ten years ago when community leaders launched the original Downtown Rising vision, we listed eight signature projects, including three projects that are currently underway: a year-round public market to help bring energy to the west side of our downtown, a convention center hotel, and a sports and fitness center. We continue to make progress on these catalytic projects,” said Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams. “Today we are proud to announce seven new priorities for downtown’s development. These projects will help to build community and our downtown economy.”