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Jason Mathis: An ally to downtown Salt Lake City

Jason Mathis still remembers the place, the location in downtown Salt Lake City where he strolled and looked down Main Street almost a decade ago. What he saw was boarded up buildings, a hole in the ground where the City Creek shopping center would eventually stand, and a lack of energy in the midst of the nation’s recession. It was also a place where he saw hope.

“I just knew what possibilities downtown had, and that it would only go up from there,” he recalls. “It seemed like we all had a great challenge, but also a great opportunity.”

Shortly thereafter, Mathis joined Salt Lake City’s Downtown Alliance, where he serves as executive director. In that role, he oversees the Alliance’s efforts in helping develop culture, commerce and entertainment. And it’s given him a unique perspective on the $5 billion worth of public and private investment that has been driven into the city’s central business district.

“Two years ago, I walked on that same stretch and saw the changes that had happened over eight years. City Creek, business towers, exciting events at the Gallivan Center and Pioneer Park, and the then-in-development Eccles Theatre. We had great timing on the economic resurgence and a focus on the issues. I’m proud of how Salt Lake City has grown.”

He says it’s hard to fully measure the impact of developments like City Creek and the 222 S. Main and 111 S. Main office buildings.

“When the recession hit, many companies stopped investing around the country, except in Salt Lake City,” he says. “That subsequently attracted Goldman Sachs to expand here, and their Salt Lake City office is one of their largest. Downtown districts are either growing or dying off in the nation. Here, we’re seeing cranes that are still working, and we know the community will continue to invest and continue to grow.”

Mathis, who spent 12 years as communications director for the Salt Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau, has seen the Alliance build a template that other cities want to copy in revitalizing their downtown sectors.

“In the past year, we’ve had several cities come to visit us—like Denver and Kansas City, for example. They want to see what we’ve done and how we’ve done it. We do the same thing—visiting cities with programs that we want to duplicate. We all ask the same questions—how do you shape the future with the assets you have now, and how can we grow those assets to make cities bigger and better? We talk about facilities, and then add elements.”

Mathis, who is a lifelong resident of Salt Lake City, has always been drawn to nonprofits. His achievements in urban development and tourism have earned him local and national awards. In 2013, he was named a White House Champion of Change for helping draft The Utah Compact, a declaration of five principles to help guide the state’s discussion on immigration.

“I think what I’m proudest of is how we’ve helped bring people together who have many opinions, and then rallying them to a cause that’s larger than their organizations,” he says. “It’s really important to me that downtown belongs to everyone—those with the least means and those with the most. That’s what a strong, vibrant urban center is all about.”