Real estate prices in the Heber Valley continue to climb like never before. Just before the great recession of 2007, home prices spiraled up until the housing market bubble burst — leaving many property owners scrambling to pay one or more mortgages on their portfolio of real estate assets. Since around 2010, real estate values have steadily increased until the point where property values are equal to and even greater than they were before the recession. A thriving real estate market in the Heber Valley presents both challenges and opportunities, and affects our local small businesses.
A Challenging Real Estate Market
Throughout the Heber Valley, steep property values and a lack of affordable housing have created challenges for many young professionals who desire to live and work in the area. In the past five years, the number of jobs in Wasatch County has increased by 2,786 (for a total number of 10,545 jobs), and another 2,453 jobs are expected to be created in the next five years.
While these numbers are impressive, the following question remains: Where will these people live? According to the Park City Board of Realtors, the average home price in Wasatch County in 2018 was $534,000. As a result, more schoolteachers, police officers and other professionals are commuting from the surrounding counties. Many of these individuals are sons and daughters of life-long residents of Wasatch County.
On the business front, commercial real estate has also soared to new pricing heights. A recent analysis of commercial land and buildings indicates that the market has created a high premium on commercial real estate in Wasatch County — to the point where many start-up businesses can’t afford to invest into new space.
The result? We are seeing many national chains capitalize on our rapidly-growing population.
Real Estate Opportunities and Solutions
Elected officials from Wasatch County, Heber City and Midway City continue exploring options to create a variety of affordable housing options. These include a mix of townhomes, condominiums and single-family units. Additionally, the Wasatch Housing Authority has created down-payment assistance programs to ease the burden of first-time home ownership.
As new developments take place in the North Village area by the Utah Valley University – Wasatch Campus and in the Jordanelle Basin, the need for continued strategic planning for affordable housing is paramount — for both Wasatch and Summit counties.
While many pockets of development are occurring throughout Wasatch County, what can be done to improve commercial real estate opportunities along Highway 40, the major business corridor that binds Wasatch, Summit, Morgan, Duchesne and Uintah counties?
Like most vibrant cities, Heber City has a busy Main Street. Unlike other successful areas, however, Heber City’s Main Street has lacked a clear identity for many years. This lack of vision and clear identity has led to a hodge-podge of buildings and developments along Highway 40. In recent years, a group of business and civic leaders within Heber City have formed a strategic alliance known as the Community Alliance for Main Street (CAMS).
In the past 12 months, CAMS has refocused its efforts to transform Heber City’s Main Street into a destination where people flock to and where businesses thrive. To help fulfill its goals, the CAMS group launched three new committees: the beautification committee, the arts in public places committee and the special events committee. Additionally, the CAMS leadership team — made up of public officials and private business leaders — has begun the process of identifying parts of the downtown area to enhance, beautify and even preserve.
Shaping the Future of Main Street
In 2019, Heber City began updating its master plan through an initiative known as Envision Heber 2050. One of the goals of this effort is to look to the future to address today’s planning needs. Through a series of surveys, workshops and focus groups, the Envision Heber 2050 initiative has captured significant public input to guide the city’s future.
The collective efforts of CAMS, Envision Heber 2050, county and city leaders, and the Wasatch Housing Authority will lead to a more thoughtful approach to development — both commercial and residential — for years to come. Among the greatest takeaways will be how to address local real estate challenges and opportunities.
As of the beginning of 2019, the population of the greater Wasatch County area was 33,208, which represents a 25.4% increase in population since 2013. Of this number, 5,619 people are considered a “millennial” (between the ages of 20-34), and in the next five years, the population of Wasatch County is projected to grow by another 4,652 people.
As the population increases, businesses will have more opportunities to grow. While business growth should happen throughout the county, Heber City’s Main Street is a perfect destination for niche, destination-like businesses to thrive. One of the ways Heber City’s Main Street can transform into a dynamic destination is to attract more commercial and residential tenants to the area.
Much of the sales tax that is collected in Heber City comes from Main Street businesses. As more businesses are attracted to the downtown area, the more spending will occur. The more spending, the more sales tax revenues will be collected and ultimately utilized to provide needed city services and solutions to critical issues such as parking and traffic congestion.
Looking to the future, Heber City has a unique opportunity to attract new businesses, collect more sales tax revenues and address affordable housing issues. Each of these opportunities is focused around a common theme: real estate and land use. For Heber City’s downtown area to continue to thrive, it will need new investment in both commercial and residential real estate. The decisions we make today will have lasting impacts on the future vitality of Main Street and the success of local small businesses for generations to come.