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'Plan ahead': Downtown will be packed with people Thursday night

SALT LAKE CITY — "You better watch out. You better not cry. Better not pout, I'm telling you why":

Everyone is coming downtown.

Thursday night, downtown Salt Lake City will be the center of attention thanks to a handful of big Christmas productions and events, as well as a Utah Jazz home game against the Golden State Warriors, who bring with them the best record in the NBA.

The bustling night is the kind of vibrancy that excites stakeholders in the success of the downtown area, but too much of a good thing could cause complications for motorists — and police are warning downtown visitors to plan ahead.

"Take a little extra time," advised Salt Lake police detective Robert Ungricht. "If it's going to be snowy (and forecasters say it will be), don't rush."

Thursday marks opening night of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's annual Christmas concert, which typically fills the massive 21,000-seat LDS Conference Center.

Utahns will also be flocking to the "White Christmas" production at the new Eccles Theater, which holds more than 2,500 spectators, and viewing Ballet West's "Nutcracker" at the nearly 2,000-seat Capitol Theater.

That's in addition to a packed Vivint Smart Home Arena for the Jazz-Warriors battle. The arena holds 19,911, although it wasn't yet a sold out game Wednesday night.

Those events alone could bring in more than 45,000 people.

Add in the visitors who will be taking in the lights at Temple Square, the parents and classmates of the various high school choral groups scheduled to perform on the Temple Square campus, plus all the shoppers who unfailingly make City Creek Center and The Gateway hotspots during the holidays, and Thursday appears to be primed to test the holiday spirit of drivers and pedestrians alike.

"Just be patient. (People) need to understand that when you come downtown during the holidays, there's a lot going on," Ungricht said. "You've got I don't know how many people coming in."

Other Thursday night events that might bring traffic through parts of downtown to the University of Utah campus include a performance of "Oliver!" by the Pioneer Theatre Company, and the band Lower Lights will play their distinctive style of Christmas music in a concert at Kingsbury Hall.

Weather is another reason to make travel plans in advance and exercise patience. Snowfall is expected throughout the afternoon and evening in Salt Lake City and throughout the Wasatch Front, according to KSL-TV meteorologist Kevin Eubank.

Despite possible complications due to weather and traffic, Shawn Stinson is confident the busy night downtown will be a "boon to the local attractions."

"We get pretty amped up and excited for a culmination of events when it all comes together," said Stinson, spokesman for Visit Salt Lake. "Salt Lake really is that lively, happening scene."

Stinson focuses much of his time attracting tourists from across the country to Salt Lake City. He said nights like Thursday, even though most of the big events are drawing in-state visitors, are part of what makes the city so easy to sell.

"We are thrilled that there gets to be such an energy in the downtown area, because we can shout from the rooftops how great downtown Salt Lake is. But when the locals get out there … they become our best messengers," he said.

Salt Lake City is a Christmas destination for several reasons. Stinson credits a "mix of the old and the new," mentioning the mainstays such as the famous Temple Square lights, plus a growing number of restaurants, the proximity of City Creek and increased accessibility over public transit.

"It's not just the new rests and bars that obviously cater to one crowd (only). We're family friendly, it's clean, it's safe, it's beautifully lit up," he said. "It's a festive, good time. … Utahns in general, we're pretty hearty … so we (can) do it in harder temperatures."

The Utah Transit Authority will be put additional train cars on its Blue and Green TRAX lines Thursday night to help with the crowds, confirmed UTA spokesman Remi Barron.

"Extra bodies" from law enforcement will also be doing their part to make sure visitors get from place to place as smoothly as possible, Ungricht said.

"There will be an added presence in the downtown area to assist with these events," he said.

But Ungricht also asked for the public's help in preventing unwelcome holiday surprises, adding he is always taken aback at how many shoppers and event-goers leave themselves vulnerable to theft.

"Lock your cars up, don't leave valuables in plain sight," he said. "Try to put your stuff in the trunk where it's not visible. Be mindful of who might be watching what you're doing (while concealing items)."

Criminals are desperate during the holiday season and will take risks to steal people's Christmas gifts, he warned. "That's when most (incidents) get ramped up a little bit with people breaking in, stealing."

But most people don't believe they will be victimized.

"I think there's this false sense of security," Ungricht said.

Above all, motorists need to remember to share the road while making their way through downtown traffic, he said, and — again — be patient.

"People just need to be really aware of the pedestrians," Ungricht said. "It'll be dark."