Chamber's SLC vision: Trails, rails and culture

Published August 29, 2006 12:25 am
Vibrant downtown sections, fluid travel are main goals
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Salt Lake City business leaders have grand visions of a downtown where you could meander from the Wasatch Range down to the Jordan River on a new network of trails, where cars aren't necessary once you reach the edge of the central city and where you could soak in many cultures in thriving ethnic districts, such as Japan Town.

The ideas didn't originate with the executives, nor are they new. But the projects now would have the backing of a powerful and wealthy group.

"We will give some ideas significant lift," said Natalie Gochnour, vice president of the Salt Lake Chamber, which, with the Downtown Alliance, released its draft "vision of visions" Monday.

The chamber made its announcement on Ensign Peak to hark back to Mormon pioneer planners. Days after arriving in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847, the settlers laid out what would become Salt Lake City, according to the chamber.

The new vision - outlined in a 32-page insert in Monday's newspapers - would culminate in three or four key projects to be completed in two or three decades. A final vision will be released in January.

That vision will send a message to government and business owners "what is wanted and expected," said Curtis Bennett, vice president of retail operations for O.C. Tanner. "Our children and our children's children will look at us and say, 'This is what they did for us.' ''

It will avoid the whims of politicians because it is led by private business owners.

"[In] cities that are successful, one of the common threads is they have a unified vision that transcends political administrations," said Bob Farrington, executive director of the Downtown Alliance.

The impetus is the $1.5 billion to $2 billion expected to be invested in downtown in the next five years - from an overhaul by the LDS Church of its Crossroads Plaza and ZCMI Center malls to a 21-floor office tower on Main Street to new housing projects. Backers hope the vision will spur more investment.

"We're looking for our next office-tower location," said Bruce Bingham, whose Hamilton Partners is helping in construction of the new office building on Main Street. "This is going to build."

The LDS Church's project may be downtown's most defining project because it covers 20 acres in the heart of downtown next to its worldwide headquarters. The church participated in the vision process but remains mum about its plans.

Chamber President Lane Beattie is just grateful for the church's interest downtown. "It's time we wake up and smell the roses and count the blessings we have, irrespective of where it came from."

Even with what is considered an unprecedented level of investment in a compressed amount of time, gaping, vacant holes remain downtown - particularly on Main Street between 100 South and 200 South and on 300 South between Main Street and West Temple. Plus, hotelier Earl Holding has turned his vacant lots on 400 South and 600 South into parking lots.

Beattie sees some of those gaps as opportunities. "It's like the malls," he said, referring to the LDS Church property that grows more vacant by the month. "You can't rebuild the malls without tearing them down."

In coalescing around a vision, the chamber is taking a page from the past. Chamber members in the 1960s created the "Second Century Plan," which called for venues that now are city staples: the Salt Palace, Main Street Plaza, Abravanel Hall.

Today's business leaders are calling for more downtown-defining projects that already have some momentum. They want to see a hierarchy of streets, with some for autos, others for transit and others for pedestrians. One concept is turning 100 South east of the Salt Palace into a pedestrian-oriented street with wider sidewalks and more green space. A downtown circulator would run more frequently and to more locations than TRAX, making it easy to get around downtown without a car.

The business community also embraces environmentalism. It envisions a "green" downtown with energy-saving buildings, more mass transit and additional green space with the aim of connecting downtown to the valley-defining mountains.

That's where a new City Creek comes in. The water now runs underground after it exits City Creek Canyon, and the proposal calls for bringing it to the surface to run to the Jordan River.

The chamber sees downtown taking advantage of the international exposure the city gained during the 2002 Winter Olympics by becoming a "world city." One idea is to build a World Trade Center to help businesses gain international work. Another is to become a "language capital" with English-immersion programs to capitalize on the many Mormon missionaries who have served overseas and speak other languages.

The draft doesn't call for a bar or nightclub district - as Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson has suggested. That idea was rejected in favor of creating various districts - including a Little Italy, a Greek Town and a revived Japan Town, which died when the Salt Palace was built - that would include small businesses, gathering plazas and night life, explained Ted Knowlton of the planning group Envision Utah. "Everybody involved wants to see more night life, bars and restaurants, to come downtown."

Anderson lauded the green focus but said the chamber also should back a performing arts center with a Broadway theater and a major renovation of Pioneer Park. The chamber did include the latter, though it doesn't necessarily back the mayor's plans for the park. And while the chamber has supported the concept of a Broadway theater, it included only vague references to it in its vision.


A new dream

Some "big ideas" the Salt Lake Chamber could push:

A Utah World Trade Center, which would help businesses market themselves internationally, to anchor downtown's now-barren southern end.

A streetcar system to circulate more often and to more places than TRAX.

Cultural and ethnic districts such as Japan Town.

An exposed City Creek from City Creek Park through downtown to the Jordan River.

The Salt Lake Chamber wants your input on its downtown vision:

Monday marked the start of a 60-day comment period. The chamber will release its final vision in January. Salt Lake City then could buy in to the projects as it rewrites its downtown master plan.

To comment, go to http://www.downtownrising.com

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