Utah honors its Mormon pioneers during July with parades, fireworks, pie and beer, commemorating their trek from Nauvoo, Ill., in 1847. There had been French trappers, Spanish priests and, of course, indigenous peoples here before the Mormons, but once Brigham's people arrived, Salt Lake City became a destination point and a home for people of all colors and creeds.
Historians report that the first Japanese folks arrived here in 1884 and created a long-gone Japantown in 1907 about where the Calvin L. Rampton Convention Center now is located. The warren of noodle houses and shops were torn down in 1966 to make way for the first Salt Palace, but the Buddhist Temple (built in 1912) and the Japanese Church of Christ (built in 1918) remained. When I was a planning commissioner for Salt Lake City, there was an urgent request—almost a threat—from Outdoor Industry Association to expand the convention hall space if we wanted their annual shows to stay. The city planners and mayor rushed through approval of a convention center extension to the west. It circled around the hotel at South Temple and 300 West and abutted the Church of Christ. As a condition of the expansion, we made it clear that Salt Lake City had to create some kind of gardens or space between the church and the center's semi-truck loading areas. If you drive by there today on 100 South between 200 and 300 West, you'll see a lovely garden protecting the east side of the church (you're welcome!).
Developers have now announced a huge project for Block 67, which is where the downtown U.S. Post Office and the run-down Royal Wood Office Plaza are located. Lardy, lardy brethren, three more high rises are planned for the 6.5 acres there with more than 650 residential units, 100,000 square-feet of retail space, a 271-room hotel and 430,000 square-feet of office space. Not to panic, though. The Ritchie Group's developers are going to divide the block into four pieces so you can walk through the maze. This is not, however, the location of the long-awaited "convention hotel" (soon to be announced). The senior citizen high-rise just behind the post office and the Buddhist Temple will remain. Thus, the last remnants of J-town are protected.
Next up on the development spinning wheel? Salt Lake City is looking at the Vivint arena, The Gateway and nearby properties to be part of a proposed entertainment district.