In September of 2002, the Salt Lake Chamber celebrated its centennial birthday with a formal black-tie banquet in the lush surroundings of the Grand America Hotel. Attendees basked in the glow of a century of service projects that none of its founders could possibly have foreseen, such as when the whole world’s attention focused on the Salt Lake City 2002 Olympic Winter Games (a goal the Chamber began seeking way back in 1965).
In October 2002, the Chamber’s president of three years, Larry Mankin, resigned.
Ironically, the Olympics, which the Chamber had sought for so long, contributed to that decision. The Century Club,
a hosting facility for Chamber members and clients, failed to draw many visitors. It was, in effect, competing with Utah’s own, better sited facility funded by state government. The result was a disappointing deficit. Chamber membership had also declined in the wake of the business slump that followed the dot com recession, the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and the post-Olympic slowdown that occurred because of the acceleration of spending. All of this contributed to Mankin’s decision to resign.
During his time at the Chamber, Mankin helped create a re-branding program, which included a shortened name, “Salt Lake Chamber.” Under his direction, the Chamber designed a website (which was a big deal at the time), hired a full-time lobbyist and raised funds that it planned to contribute to political candidates. He came to the Chamber at a difficult time, when it needed someone to provide new life and pride in its mission. Overall, he strengthened the association’s involvement in community, civic and government affairs.
When Mankin departed, Craig Peterson, the Chamber’s COO, became the interim president. His charge was to get the Chamber out of debt. He also participated in the search for a new president.
There was a lot to do. Salt Lake City’s downtown was filling up with vacant storefronts. Prized retailer, Nordstrom, threatened to leave the city entirely if it could not move from its downtown location to the new Gateway retail development. Newspapers speculated openly on what could be done to revive the state’s premiere city and what had happened to the city’s leadership. The community was mired in a rancorous and very public argument that became a debilitating Mormon vs. non- Mormon battle over free speech and private property rights. The dispute grew out of the development of the Main Street Plaza that linked Temple Square with the administrative offices for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Business leaders of the Chamber clearly felt that a new direction was needed, not only in the city itself, but also for the Chamber. Scott Anderson, president of Zions Bank and chairman of the Chamber’s Board of Governors; along with Kem Gardner, vice chairman of the Boyer Company, emerged as the community’s leaders. “To Scott Anderson’s credit, he was tenacious in his desire to bring change to the city,” said Peterson.
One of the first offshoots of this new direction was a merger with the Downtown Alliance, which represented property owners, tenants and business owners within Salt Lake City’s Central Business Improvement District (CBID). Among the Downtown Alliance’s many activities, it sponsored popular events, such as First Night (now known as EVE WinterFest) and the Downtown Farmers Market. “It was not an easy merger,” said Peterson. It was met with some opposition from small business owners within the CBID whose taxes helped fund the Downtown Alliance.
After the merger was complete, downtown became more unified. Although the Downtown Alliance and Chamber maintained separate boards, they were led by the same president and CEO. They were also co-located, which increased staff interaction and led to more collaboration. Overtime, downtown leadership increased and outcomes improved.
Larry Mankin, who had been a professional chamber executive for more than 20 years, ended up leaving Salt Lake after only three years to become a chamber chief executive in California. That kind of background and training may actually have been a handicap in Utah, where it was crucial to understand the local culture. This time, the committee didn’t want another national search. They wanted someone who knew the players and was a player himself in the state. “We wanted to find someone who was respected in the community,” Scott Anderson said.
They were looking for someone with local ties, who understood public policy, who was interested in civic affairs, and who had a record of community service and community willingness.
They found Lane Beattie.