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How is the pandemic impacting downtown SLC's building boom?

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Several massive projects are already taking shape, including a 393-foot office tower at City Creek, a 250-foot luxury apartment building, the 28-story convention center hotel, and a large mixed-use development near Vivint Smart Home Arena. (Photo: KUTV)

It may be the middle of winter, but construction season in downtown Salt Lake City could not be hotter.

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Several massive projects are already taking shape, including a 393-foot office tower at City Creek, a 250-foot luxury apartment building, the 28-story convention center hotel, and a large mixed-use development near Vivint Smart Home Arena.

With the COVID-19 pandemic now coming up on a year, how will it impact these developments?

“We’ll see how the market does with these new projects that are underway,” said James Wood, the Ivory-Boyer Senior Fellow with the Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah.

Wood, who specializes in housing, construction, real estate, and economic development, says there’s no indication that large-scale development going on in downtown Salt Lake City will slow down.

“All the signs of a market that has a shortage and demand exceeds supply. I would expect long term we will see a little reduction in demand for office space,” Wood said.

Where demand for commercial office space may dip due to more remote working after the pandemic, Wood emphasizes that Utah’s shortage of housing remains steep.

“2020 is going to be a record year in residential construction in the state with 31,000 new dwelling units, but we’ve still got a housing shortage,” he said.

Many of downtown’s biggest projects are high-rise housing. According to Building Salt Lake, a Utah-based website that focuses on development, plans were released earlier this month for a 31-story building that will add 400 apartments to the downtown core.

Plans are also underway to build what will become the tallest building in Utah at 200 South State Street -- Kensington Tower. According to Building Salt Lake, Kensington Tower is expected to break ground this summer and will be 39-stories tall with 380 housing units.

“There’s going to be a huge injection of residents downtown and that’s going to have a big impact on the city,” said Building Salt Lake editor Taylor Anderson.

It’s going to change downtown Salt Lake pretty rapidly – there are thousands more people who are going to be living downtown full time.

Anderson says the Wasatch Front needs to be mindful to capitalize on the existing train and bus infrastructure.

“Luckily we built out a transit system that a lot of cities don’t have,” he said.

The Downtown SLC Alliance recently released its State of Downtown report for 2020. The report notes the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on convention, tourism, and hospitality in downtown Salt Lake City, an estimated loss of $99 million, according to Visit Salt Lake.

The report, however, notes Salt Lake City’s competitive edge against more expensive cities in the region, including Phoenix, Denver, Seattle, and Portland.

A recent report from PricewaterhouseCoopers listed Salt Lake City as a "boom market."

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