Last week I traveled through Chicago and Milwaukee on my way to Madison, Wisconsin, for the annual convention of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies. In the early 1980s, Chicago was my home for nearly a year (living a stone’s throw from the lake near the intersection of Clark and Diversey). Therefore, as I often write about the travails of our own downtown Salt Lake City, my reflections are skewed by my memories of robust fun on Clark, Lincoln, Broadway, State and Division Streets.
It isn’t fair to expect Salt Lake City to measure against Chicago. But Milwaukee and Madison? Milwaukee’s a great town too—a smaller Chicago, but cleaner. Madison is another matter. A number of years ago, that city faced a deteriorating downtown economy and infrastructure. Today, it kicks Salt Lake City’s ass. No matter where we went, we found lots of people visiting cafés, clubs, markets and fairs. No matter where we ate, we ate well.
As for Salt Lake? Upon our return, I read in the Deseret News that yet another panel of the same old suspects has come up with the same old vague notions of what should be done in the same old manner to salvage our downtown. Who are they? The LDS church has the biggest stake in Salt Lake. Temple Square is a huge tourist attraction and even club owners will tell you that their business picks up at conference time, so they have a rightful place on that board. The Chamber of Commerce is represented. They’re the folks who charge us about $550 a year for membership, but don’t list us in their guides with other “newspapers.” Questar Gas—what’s up there? Wells Fargo Bank—aren’t they the folks who can’t keep our accounts straight and then charge three bucks if we call them? The Boyer Company. That’s rich—just talk to the contractors at Gateway. And best, Sinclair Oil, my friend Earl Holding’s company. He is to rebuilding Salt Lake City what sand is to a polar bear. I’m surprised the committee doesn’t also include people from Diamond Parking, who send their revenues to Seattle, by the way.
I want to see Tony Weller on that committee. And John Speros, John Zaccheo, Lynette Fisk, Richard Wirick and Tony Caputo. I want the arts groups represented, the clubs, the hotels and restaurants, too. And how about some normal people? Can’t they be heard, too? Oh, you say, we have elected officials to take care of them. Ha. The institutions already on the committee own our elected officials.
In Chicago, Milwaukee and Madison, one has the sense that those cities belong to the people, not to the society-page suits and contractors. Those people enjoy their lives and work hard to preserve every bit of heritage that built those cities in the first place. That’s the exact opposite of Salt Lake City, where the bravado of claiming “vision” is offset by the cowardice to take risks and rebuild.