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Downtown Denied

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Salt Lake City’s downtown is on the sure path to being forever altered. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ plans to transform its mass of land between North Temple and South Temple from 100 East to 400 West, plus a good share of its downtown holdings where the ZCMI Center and Crossroads Plaza are currently undergoing death throes, might as well be greeted as an imminent reality.


Once the church has spent its more than $500 million to expand Brigham Young University north into a Salt Lake City campus and plant the LDS Business College alongside it, downtown will never be the same. We might rechristen it, playfully, as “Mo-town.” Granted, except for clubs in and around the warehouse district, Salt Lake City has never been known as a cauldron of nightlife. Now it looks as if most of the city will be the hub of leisurely strolls through Temple Square, followed by quiet dinners and ice cream snacking, topped off by a quiet reading of scripture before an early bedtime.


“It’s a very clean, friendly city you have here,” a visitor to Salt Lake City might say five or 10 years from now. “But it makes me really sleepy.” Sit still long enough, and you can feel the soporific effects taking root. Certain concessions must be admitted: Those who own the land always make the plan, and from the very day the pioneers entered the valley, the church has always maintained a downtown presence. And the fact that the church isn’t asking for Redevelopment Agency funds or tax incentives for its plans is a definite plus.


Still, recent news that the church has its eye on the last stray portions of Block 84, home to the Triad Center, so that it might possibly wrap the entire parcel into its portfolio of land holdings, the question must be asked: At what point does a simple and rightful presence turn into a suffocating dominance?


Compare the current situation in Provo to that of Salt Lake City. Even as one Provo City councilman this week lauded BYU’s plan to limit the distance at which its students could live from campus to a two-mile radius, he questioned whether it was good for all of Provo. In protecting the “moral and spiritual living environment” of its students from those not of the fold, as BYU housing manager Garry Briggs described it to the Deseret Morning News, the university may have created a precarious rental market as landlords turn lovely old homes into rentals.


Other than the clumsy handling of its purchase of Main Street, which led unwittingly to an onslaught of unruly street preachers into its Temple Plaza, there’s been no threat to the “moral and spiritual living environment” of the church’s downtown headquarters. The only force driving the church’s massive expansion into the surrounding downtown area seems to be the gaping vacuum left by a faltering shopping district. The generous redevelopment package given to the Boyer Co.’s Gateway shopping center set much of the stage for that.


Debate over a vision of downtown isn’t encouraging, either. Church officials are mortified that basement strip club Crazy Goat might operate within 165 feet of a city “gateway corridor.” The club’s owner has said repeatedly that he had to hatch a business model that would allow him to break even on his property. Meanwhile, the options for people interested in neither the Book of Mormon nor scantily clad woman remain woefully thin.

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