Provo City Center Temple aftermath: Traffic mitigated, business not as high as anticipated

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Natalie Bothwll
Guru’s Cafe has seen a more consistent flow of customers during the lunch hour, as pictured, and sharply increased crowds during the weekends since the Provo City Center Temple open house began. However, the influx was not as high as originally planned. (Natalie Bothwell)

Provo City officials and downtown businesses said expectations of increased business from the Provo City Center Temple Open House were a bit higher than what actually transpired.

Downtown Provo restaurants primarily benefited from the increased number visitors to the area. But drawing an exact correlation because of the temple open house is difficult, according Provo City business development coordinator Allison Lew.

Mormon Newsroom reported over 800,000 visitors toured the landmark, not far from the 880,000 expected based on a 20,000 daily visitor estimate from the Utah Transit Authority.

Lew said there was a definite increase of traffic downtown, but local sale increases were “not anything extreme.”

“We know how many people went through the open house, but how many of those people stayed in downtown?” Lew said, describing the problem of tracking traffic from the temple open house.

However, many restaurant owners and managers directly attribute increased sales and new customers to increased traffic from the open house. The impact on the surrounding business varied by proximity and business type, according to Lew.

“For restaurants that are closest to the open house, they saw as high as a 40 to 50 percent increase of customers coming on evenings and weekends,” Lew said.

Gloria’s Little Italy owner Rachel Christensen said her business saw a 30 to 35 percent increase during the open house. Her restaurant shares the intersection with the temple.

“I think (expectations) were a little exaggerated, but it was helpful to have that mindset so that we were prepared,” Christensen said.

Lew also said Provo’s experience was similar to the experience of Ogden Utah Temple renovation and re-dedication in 2014 where there were modest increases to both traffic and local business performance.

Rockwell Ice Cream Co. owner Justin Williams said the temple open house was pivotal to opening his business on 100 Block of University Avenue.

“I’ve always thought we needed good ice cream downtown,” Williams said. “I’ve worked down here for a long time and went to school (at UVU) and know that this is something people have wanted for a long time.”

Williams opened shop on Nov. 14, 2015 and had a slow few months until the temple open house, where he estimates a 20 percent increase to business during the weekdays.

Williams believes Utahns consume twice as many sweets as other states, and that there is a connection between temple attendance and sweets consumption. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland joked that he was keeping the April 2016 Sunday Session attendees from getting their ice cream.

 

 

Williams noted a clear drop in business after the dedication of the Provo City Center Temple, but he is seeing business increase as the weather improves.

Since the announcement of the temple, two stand-alone ice cream shops opened — Rockwell Ice Cream Co., and Roll With It Creamery — with a Sub Zero creamery opening in the coming months. There were no stand alone ice cream shops in downtown to this point, according to Lew.

Sweets shops like Fruta Crush and The Sweet Tooth Fairy also opened during the temple open house.

Other retailers said they saw no major changes to their businesses. A manager at Mullet-Hoover Inc. said it was “steady as she goes” during the open house.

Kimberly Stocco, assistant manager at What’s Hot Clothing, said there were more people wandering in and out of the store but not coming with the plan to shop. This was an observation from many specialty retailers.

Lew said she thinks the city did very well with the traffic mitigation plan and admitted some people think the city did “too good of a job keeping things business as usual.”

She said most traffic came to and from the south side of the temple where most of the businesses are on the north side of the temple. Other city leaders said the excited preparations and talk of traffic may have caused a bit of a Y2K effect that deterred people away from downtown Provo.

Many will remember the audible gasps from the attendees of the October 2011 General Conference when President Thomas S. Monson announced that the Provo Tabernacle was to be restored and dedicated as a temple.

The ensuing excitement peaked when the church announced the temple was ready for tours on Jan. 11, 2016.

Utah Transit Authority estimated 20,000 visitors would tour the temple daily, and Provo City announced investing $500,000 in improvements and planning to help Downtown Provo handle the potential crush of traffic.

Lt. Jeff Lougee said there was a “tremendous” increase in traffic on the thoroughfares surrounding the temple open house, but didn’t notice any spike in either citations or accidents, although officers did assist with a few accidents at the new light on 200 South & University Avenue. Lougee was in-charge of a 15-officer team assigned to the temple open house.

A major part of the preparations before hand for increased traffic was to divert traffic away from Center Street with programmable signs from the I-15 & Center Street exit telling temple visitors to approach the temple from 300 South.

It’s unclear how much traffic increased downtown and the city relies on the reporting of the local businesses who may or may not track foot traffic.

Lt. Jeff Lougee said there were at least eight officers around the temple at all times working either a morning or swing shift.

“We didn’t have any incidents other than some medicals were some people fell down some steps,” Lougee said.

He also said there were no major security incidents. He said temple tour patrons would frequently ask his officers of places to eat and shop before or after patron’s toured.

He also said police department’s planning and dedication of resources made the event secure.

“I think having that many officers in that area really lessened the possibility of any wrongdoing in the area,” Lougee said. “We have no idea what we might have deterred in that area where our officers are typically very busy.”

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