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From The Gateway to Gallivan Center, events and ‘activations’ are aimed at tourists and locals

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Riggers build an artificial ski slope at The Gateway on Salt Lake City’s Rio Grande St. on Monday, February 13, 2023. The slope will be the site for Grit Rail Jam, a snowboarding competition that’s free to the public — one of the festivities tied to the NBA All-Star Weekend.

By Sean P. Means | Feb. 16, 2023, 7:00 a.m.

For a weekend, downtown Salt Lake City is going to look a lot different.

You may see spaces that were vacant [being filled],” said Dee Brewer, executive director of The Downtown Alliance. “You’re going to see spaces transformed. [Places] that usually do business as a bar or a restaurant will turn into a place for a brand activation.

In the week before the NBA All-Star Game, happening Sunday night at Vivint Arena, spaces around downtown Salt Lake City will be temporarily filled with corporate activations — designed to get the attention of tourists and locals drawn to the big game and the atmosphere surrounding it.

Many of the events and pop-ups are open to the public, said Jacklyn Briggs, regional marketing director for Vestar, which operates The Gateway shopping center.

“There’s a great opportunity for people that want to experience the hubbub of All-Star, but don’t have tickets to individual events, can still come down,” Briggs said. “Because we’re right across the street from the arena, there’s going to be celebrity basketball sightings. It’s definitely going to feel like a block party down here.”

The Gateway will have two stores open for the weekend. One, The Shop, will be set up in two locations on opposite sides of Rio Grande Street, features such brands as Cactus Jack, MRKT, StockX, The Webster Miami, CounterPoint (the Utah Jazz’s private-label apparel brand) and Mitchell & Ness. The other will promote Under Armour and Curry Brand.

Brewer said he expects several spaces in City Creek Center, a couple of blocks east of The Viv, to wrap themselves in corporate skins or host events during the All-Star weekend.

“Some retailers, their identity is going to shift,” Brewer said.

Brewer compared the All-Star environment to what Salt Lake City experienced two decades ago, when the city hosted the 2002 Winter Olympics.

That was exciting, to watch the city come alive in a new way,

Brewer said.

Briggs compared the expected atmosphere to what springs to life every year in Park City, on the first weekend of the Sundance Film Festival. Restaurants, galleries and bars are transformed into lounges, rented out by corporations who want to burn their logos into people’s brains. And, just as quickly as they go up, they disappear when the big event is over.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Electrical workers work at the Nike pop-up location on the vacant lot at 300 South and West Temple on Monday, February 13, 2023 — one of the corporate “activations” timed to coincide with the NBA All-Star Weekend.

One of the biggest restaurants near The Viv, Flanker Kitchen + Sporting Club in The Gateway, is renting itself out for the three days of All-Star Weekend, said Bryan Bass, chief marketing officer for Carver Road Hospitality, Flanker’s parent company.

On Friday and Sunday, Bass said, Flanker’s 18,000-square-foot space will be taken over by the National Basketball Association and its corporate partners. On Saturday, he said, the restaurant is renting out to the National Basketball Retired Players Association, also known as Legends.

“The NBA came to us pretty early on, and expressed interest in working with us,” Bass said.

Bass said Flanker might have made as much money staying open on a busy weekend as it will renting out to a corporate client. “It’s not as much, really, a financial decision, as it is an opportunity to work with such a huge organization,” he said.

Flanker will be making food for the general public, Bass said. The restaurant will have a food booth in The Gateway’s central plaza, offering a limited menu, during the Grit Rail Jam, a free-to-the-public snowboarding competition set for Friday and Saturday afternoon.

Not all of the bars and restaurants downtown are renting themselves out to corporate clients.

“We’re going to be open, and we’re definitely going to be slammed,” said Russ Clark, day-shift bartender at Bout Time Pub & Grub in The Gateway, who confirmed the bar was not renting out to corporate clients. Clark said he will get to experience All-Star Weekend firsthand, since he’ll be tending bar inside The Viv.

Richard Noel and Duncan Burrell, co-owners of Bar X and Beer Bar on 200 South, said they’re renting Bar X out on Thursday evening for a party sponsored by the shoe company Adidas — but for the rest of the All-Star Weekend, their bars are staying open for the public.

Burrell said their company has experience with the full corporate rental: Their restaurant in Park City, The Eating Establishment, every year becomes a lounge for New York University alumni during Sundance.

For Salt Lake City, though, “we’re kind of excited to be open to the public,” Noel said. Among the events Bar X is hosting: Tapping a private barrel of Patron tequila and inviting customers to buy a shot.

“I have a feeling it’s going to be awesome,” Burrell said of the weekend. “There’s going to be a lot of energy. I feel like I’m feeling it already.”

Here are some of the events happening around downtown:

• American Express will open an “Outside the Court” activation at The Gateway, featuring a tailor shop for fans to customize All-Star merchandise, food and beverages from Utah small businesses, and a “dirty soda shoppe.”

• The Gallivan Center, at 239 Main St., is being turned into Central, a curated art, music and food experience being billed as “a celebration of local.” The centerpiece is an immersive installation, designed by artist Norbert Bueno and the creative team at Bandah, with 25 musicians performing above up cycled shipping containers whose interiors will feature work by local artists.

• Nike, the athletic apparel giant, is reportedly building a pop-up location on the vacant lot at 300 South and West Temple (where Club Zephyr used to be). The temporary building looks rather like a giant shoebox. Officials from Nike did not respond to a request for comment. (Nike also has put a massive Air Jordan mural on the north side of the Radisson Hotel, along South Temple between 200 West and 300 West.)

• Both Brewer and Briggs pointed out that with some 125,000 people visiting Salt Lake City for the game, parking downtown is going to be filled quickly. They recommended people take TRAX into downtown; the Utah Transit Authority is offering free-fare days now through Tuesday, Feb. 21. The Downtown Alliance, Salt Lake City government and UTA are also teaming up to put some 50 entertainers — singers, comedians and magicians — inside the train cars between The Gateway and Gallivan Center, performing and giving directions.

(Sean P. Means | The Salt Lake Tribune) A massive mural for Nike’s Air Jordan brand covers the north face of the Radisson Hotel in downtown Salt Lake City on Feb. 13, 2023. The makeover is one of many corporate changes in store for downtown in the run-up to the NBA All-Star Game at Vivint Arena on Feb. 19, 2023.