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Survey says arts draws people to downtown SLC, panhandlers drive them away

SALT LAKE CITY -- A pair of reports released Wednesday show the downtown area is thriving, with arts and entertainment bringing people in like never before.

The Downtown Alliance presented its annual "State of Downtown" report, which includes a statewide survey of what drives people here -- and what drives them away.

Downtown Alliance Executive Director Jason Mathis said arts, festivals, and entertainment they can't get anywhere else emerged as top attractions over previous years. People surveyed also cited dining. Religious activities saw a slight decline, Mathis said.

From the Downtown Alliance survey:

The survey found panhandling and homelessness kept people away, followed by traffic and crime. Parking is no longer the top complaint.

From the survey:

Overall, the Downtown Alliance's annual report had very good news: $837 million in retail sales last year, a $6 billion property value, a 14% occupancy rate and 233,000 convention attendees.

Nadia Letey with the real-estate firm CBRE said office vacancies are low and more companies are demanding bigger spaces. They're also willing to pay for it.

"The design of these buildings is very high end. It's floor to ceiling glass and it's what tenants are looking for," she said.

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Salt Lake City Economic Development Director Lara Fritts told FOX 13 that while they are luring many new companies to town, it's taking longer to get new buildings online.

"There are a lot of projects that are proposed, which is great news for us," she said. "However, it takes 18 to 24 months to build a project. For us, companies are only looking about a year in advance for that move."

There are more than 3,200 residential units being built in the downtown area, but affordable housing remains a concern. Rents have gone up but wages have stagnated, the report said. The average two-bedroom apartment in Salt Lake City rents for $1,030 a month. It's one of the cheapest in the area, compared to $1,330 in Denver or $3,040 in San Francisco.

In their report, the Downtown Alliance highlighted air quality, the loss of Outdoor Retailer, the crisis in the Rio Grande neighborhood and competition from places like Silicon Slopes as "threats" to downtown. The group called for more to be done to deal with affordable housing, lower building fees and more changes to liquor laws to keep attracting people.

CBRE's Stephanie Buranek predicted one of the hottest up-and-coming spots will be the one that saw some of the lowest marks in the Downtown Alliance survey for retail destinations: The Gateway.

The troubled downtown mall had only 28% of those surveyed say they visited it, compared to 42% for City Creek Center (and 33% who visited Murray's Fashion Place Mall).

From the Downtown Alliance survey:

Battered by the Rio Grande neighborhood to the south and City Creek Center, The Gateway is in the midst of a multi-million dollar redevelopment plan. Buranek said it's being transformed into an entertainment district. New tenants are being landed, including "heavy-hitter" Dave & Buster's.

"I think there will be a renaissance," Buranek said. "But I don't think there will be a major change for 12 to 16 months."

Mathis said city and state leaders are addressing the Rio Grande problems, including plans to close the downtown homeless shelter by June 2019.

Read the State of Downtown Report here: