Famed library architect: Keep cop shop off the block

Published May 27, 2009 7:55 pm
Park or police? » Library Board joins growing chorus against Becker's 'preferred' site.
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After weeks of silence, perhaps the paramount voice in the Library Square debate is declaring his disgust.

Award-winning architect Moshe Safdie, who designed Salt Lake City's showcase Main Library, has "great concern" with Mayor Ralph Becker's proposal for a cop shop on the downtown cultural block, calling the resulting arrangement a "fundamental transformation for the worse."

Safdie -- along with fellow library architects Steve Crane and Mark Johnson -- suggested that a "museum or performing-arts building" might work on Library Square, but warned that "a police station and emergency operations center is hardly a complementary use to the public life of the park."

"With further study," the architects wrote in a letter to Becker, the City Council and the Library Board, "locating the police station on a block adjacent to the library block might be an acceptable addition."

The Library Board voted Tuesday to oppose placing a police headquarters a book's throw from the capital's cultural icon. The board argues the cop complex -- to be funded by a $125 million bond if voters approve it in November -- is "incompatible" and poses a philosophical threat to the freedom-of-speech nature of Library Square.

"It's not just an architectural issue," board member John Becker said Wednesday. "It's the compatibility of what that block is all about, and that's intellectual freedom."

Besides the "preferred" location on the east half of Library Square, the mayor is weighing whether to erect the public-safety complex across the street -- on the east side of 300 East.

Asked if it gave him pause to get pushback from Safdie and former library Director Nancy Tessman, who also opposes the Library Square plan, Becker said, "You bet."

"If I was absolutely certain of which way to go ... I would have presented a single proposal," noted the mayor, welcoming the "very valuable" input from the library board and the architects.

"This is very helpful and well-conceived," he said of the trio's letter.

The architects suggest a police headquarters has the potential to be an excellent library neighbor. "However, it should be located across the perimeter streets," they wrote. "From there, it could contribute to the civic nature of the district without cutting off the public from what is proving to be one of Salt Lake's most vital public resources."

That is not an endorsement of the patch above 300 East, Crane said Wednesday. "We say across the streets plural, meaning east, south or north -- maybe the Ken Garff block or the Chamber of Commerce block."

"We're not opposed to the east side, we're not endorsing the east side," Crane added. "It needs to be looked at and studied further."

The mayor plans to make his final site recommendation June 3 -- after public workshops set for Saturday and Monday -- but said Wednesday he could delay that if he needs more time to consider the feedback.

City Councilman Luke Garrott said the kind of input gleaned from the workshops could prove "highly significant."

"People want to talk about alternative sites," Garrott said. "If it's limited to the Third East corridor, I have a hard time with a discussion that's constricted so much."

Meanwhile, the mayor's office is challenging the "serious allegations" made last week by library project manager Ken Ament that the block would be at a "highly documented" risk from liquefaction during a serious earthquake.

"It is clear that either of the proposed site locations do not present undue hardships," Becker chief of staff David Everitt wrote in a letter Wednesday. Everitt cited a series of geotechnical studies that put the liquefaction risk at "moderate," not high.

As the controversy swells, voices across the blogosphere are calling for boycotts of Friday night's "Backstage with Becker," a fundraiser for a future arts and cultural district the mayor hopes to anchor with a Broadway-class theater.

Becker brushed off the talk, saying the event is enjoying "very nice feedback." Still, a Facebook group labeled "Save the SLC Library green -- open space" has mushroomed to nearly 2,500 members.

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Civic Campus public workshops

» Saturday: Main Library auditorium, 210 E. 400 South, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

» Monday: Pioneer Precinct, 1040 W. 700 South, 7 p.m.

» June 16: City Council public hearing, City Hall, 451. S. State St., Room 315, 7 p.m.



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