Moments after reciting her oath of office for the second time, Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall took to a podium and acknowledged all the unexpected challenges her administration faced almost immediately after the last time she was in this spot.
She took office at the start of 2020, two months before the COVID-19 pandemic roared into Utah, causing shutdowns across the state. A 5.7 magnitude earthquake centered directly southwest of the city caused millions in damage to dozens of buildings in the city that same month. The summer, filled with racial injustice protests in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, ended with with a destructive windstorm.
The state also experienced one of its worst droughts on record that began in 2020 and lingered all the way through the record snowpack collected between 2022 and 2023, which also brought in flooding last spring. Those challenges, she argues, exposed flaws in the city, but also highlighted the city's grit, leaving Utah's capital city poised for a brighter future moving forward.
This includes hosting the 2034 Winter Olympics and Paralympics, which the city will seek to finalize this year, potentially drawing in two more major sports leagues, as well as new affordable housing, infrastructure and parks as the city continues to grow in population. All of these, she contends, may define the city's future identity.
"If the last four years were forged by historic crisis, the next four will be forged by historic opportunity," she said, speaking to a packed Nancy Tessman Auditorium inside the Salt Lake City Main Library Tuesday. "It may be an understatement to describe this moment as unrivaled in this city's history. ... This is it; this is our moment. There is no room for timidity and ... we must think big."
Mendenhall isn't alone in her optimism over the city's future. She was joined by council members Alejandro Puy (District 2), Eva Lopez Chavez (District 4), Dan Dugan (District 6) and Sarah Young (District 7), all of whom were also sworn in during a city inauguration ceremony.
City leaders painted a bright picture of the city during the event, which also featured songs, poems and dance routines that celebrated the different communities within the city. One by one, all five election officials sworn in Tuesday outlined their goals for the city over the next two to four years and beyond.
They talked about the city's growth and what they plan to do to ensure that businesses can continue to thrive, while residents and families are able to afford to continue to live in the city.
Some referenced projects already in the works, such as expanded transit options, and new updates.
Mendenhall said the city is now looking at "financing tools" to construct its Green Loop project surrounding downtown. She added that she also would like to see one of the parking lots used as a temporary medal plaza during the 2002 Olympics be turned into a park possibly even before the 2034 Games, among new updates to projects.
A spokesperson for the mayor clarified that the exact details of the project are in a "visioning process" right now and it wasn't immediately clear where that park would be located.
"We have opportunities to (grow) even stronger and a team of committed public servants working to find the solutions our city needs," Dugan said.
However, there are still plenty of challenges that remain as 2024 begins.
The city still faces plenty of issues tied to homelessness, affordable housing, crime and air quality, including dust flying in from dried sections of the Great Salt Lake. There are also gaps between residents who are thriving and ones who aren't, city leaders said.
"The challenges that we face are complex and we need your energy, commitment, ideas and sometimes money not only to build bridges, but to fill those gaps," Puy said. "We need the gaps of historical injustice to be gone and we need your help."
Mendenhall adds that many of these are challenges that one city cannot solve alone and will require collaboration with state and county leaders, as well as neighboring cities. She adds that these types of connections are also already in the works.
Those connections may just help the city reach the bright version she and her colleagues have for it.
"The way we will move Salt Lake City forward must be together. We need each other," she said. "The stakes of this moment are too high and we must find the grace within ourselves to see beyond ourselves."