Efforts to prevent Downtown Provo from overcrowding for the Provo City Center Temple open house might be working too well.
Part of the city’s preparations for the highly-anticipated reveal of the Temple included almost $500,000 of improvements to area functionality, identification of 1,600 parking spots within three blocks of the temple and an announcement from the Provo Police Department in December advising residents to “now (use) alternate travel routes around the center of the city.”
These efforts might have created a “Y2K effect” of overhyping the potential traffic in Downtown Provo during the open house, according to Deputy Mayor of Economic Development Dixon Holmes.
“We think we’ve done a really good job, even too good of a job on the congestion potential in downtown,” Holmes said.
The city’s efforts to mitigate traffic was intended to keep local travel infrastructure running smoothly so that local businesses wouldn’t be negatively impacted, Holmes said.
However, the true impact of the temple open house and the efforts of the city on local businesses — especially on Center Street — is unclear.
Rachel Christensen, owner of Gloria’s Little Italy, said she has filled five-to-six more tables than average a night and that weekends have become a little more busy since the open house started, but not the “wild” she was told would come by city officials and fellow business owners.
“We’ve seen an increase of about 20 percent in traffic into the restaurant,” Christensen said. “We are seeing more family groups as opposed to what we usually see: couples.”
Holmes also said the anecdotal evidence from local residents, businesses and visitors indicates that efforts to handle any increases in traffic or parking have been successful. However, the perception that Center Street is inundated with visitors persists, and it may be keeping customers away from Downtown Provo.
“One message that the city leaders would like to put out there is that if you are a local and you normally come downtown, don’t avoid it because of (the open house) because there isn’t so much happening downtown that it is difficult or impossible to do what you normally do,” Holmes said.
Scott Glenn, general manager for Pioneer Book, said that the perception of a crowded Downtown Provo has severely impacted his business.
“The perception of ‘it’s going to be crazy, avoid downtown’ is not the reality and that perception is killing our business,” Glenn said. “We’re doing a quarter of what we did this time last year because people are avoiding downtown.”
He said Pioneer Book, a used and rare bookstore located on the 400 West block on Center Street, isn’t getting any additional traffic from the temple open house because people are being told to avoid the area entirely.
“If it was just that we weren’t getting any of the temple traffic it would be fine … but to not get our regular traffic because people are avoiding downtown, that hurts,” Glenn said.
He projects Pioneer Book, year-to-year, will post half the sales compared to last January.
At Joe Vera’s Mexican Fiestaraunt, just two blocks to the east (300 West and Center Street) business is good.
“(The open house) has been doing good things,” Salvador Lara, owner of Joe Vera’s, said. “There are some new customers, but not as much as I would think.”
Lara said the regulars are coming as usual and then coming again with friends and family after going to the temple open house. Lara also thinks visitors are missing the restaurant because they are unfamiliar with Provo. He estimates only a 10 percent increase in recent business.
Lara said there haven’t been any parking or traffic issues. He said the only recent traffic and parking issues happened when there was an event at the Utah Valley Convention Center.
Management at both Station 22 Cafe and Guru’s Cafe both said weekday business has seen a little more consistent flow of customers. But, for them, weekends have been a lot busier since the beginning of the open house.
Holmes said that restaurants generally are reporting good business while retail, which relies a little more on local regulars, is reporting mixed results and said it’s hard to place boom or bust on the temple open house.
“If you’re down, what else is there that you attribute it to?” Holmes said. “Retail is really a wily beast and you can’t tell how it will act. Is it factually that way? I don’t know.”
Glenn hopes foot traffic from both the local regulars and the temple open house will increase as the weather improves.