Friday, March 23, 2007

Downtown Rising: Vision of what S.L. might become is unveiled

Deseret Morning News, Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Downtown Rising: Vision of what S.L. might become is unveiled

By Jenifer K. Nii

Deseret Morning News

Six community districts, eight "signature projects" and one big vision.

Crossroads Plaza, which stands on the corner of West and South Temples, is in the process of being leveled.Mike Terry, Deseret Morning News/KSL-TV Chopper 5The Salt Lake Chamber and Downtown Alliance unveiled their vision for Utah's capital city Tuesday, a blueprint connecting mountains and metropolis, communities and cultures, residents and guests.

"This is one of the most exciting endeavors I've been involved with in my life," said Salt Lake Chamber President Lane Beattie. "What is Salt Lake City going to be in the next 30 to 40 years? What could it be?"

The Downtown Rising plan, finalized nearly a year after its kickoff in May 2006, and after considering thousands of public comments and interviews, seeks to answer those questions.
However, Beattie said, it is not a mandate. It isn't a bossy document, dictating changes the city should make, who should make them or when. Rather, Beattie said, Downtown Rising is a "big picture" vision of what the city might become.

"This is a living plan. That's why it's not a planning document," Beattie told the Deseret Morning News editorial board Monday. "It's living. It's a vision. It's something that's going to help drive some synergies and yet it very clearly articulates what our capital city ought to be to our state."
The plan was presented to the Salt Lake County and city councils Tuesday. A public event, including Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. and community and business leaders, was scheduled for this morning at the Gallivan Center.

Salt Lake County Councilman Jeff Allen said he liked what he heard.

"I think it's very forward thinking, thinking about the next generation, to be honest," Allen said at the council's meeting Tuesday. "And it allows a lot of flexibility."

The plan includes the designation of six "character" districts, eight priority projects and suggestions for transportation, building and development.

Each of the six districts proposed in the plan encompasses a general geographic area and has a certain "feel." The Broadway District, for example, finds its center around 300 South and is identified by its focus on the arts, entertainment and hospitality, while the Temple Square District is quieter and more contemplative and centers around The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Salt Lake Temple, office complex and educational facilities.

Drawing depicts the Skyline District, a cosmopolitan area featuring tall buildings.Image By Paul BrownThe chamber's vice president of policy, Natalie Gochnour, quickly added that the boundaries of the districts aren't rigidly defined. Nor are the boundaries of downtown Salt Lake City, for the purposes of Downtown Rising. The plan includes, and emphasizes the benefits of, the University of Utah, for example.

And, Gochnour said, while all of the districts will be open to all uses, the hope of Downtown Rising is that businesses will make decisions to locate or grow their businesses in the various districts according to those districts' personalities.

"This was not easy to do, to get people to agree on these main, general areas," Gochnour said. "But we think it's a great way to brand and build our city, market our city and guide future investment to our city. And we think we can accelerate that investment by being purposeful about the thinking."

Downtown Rising also calls for a coordinated transportation plan — from adding new TRAX routes and commuter rail, to remaking the city's main entry points so that they're more inviting, to landscaping city streets to promote walkability.

The plan also outlines eight signature projects Gochnour said will facilitate a "look and feel" of which Salt Lake City, and Utah, can be proud. The projects include a regional rail network, the creation of a "green loop" connecting the Wasatch Mountains with the Jordan River Parkway, a permanent public market and a sports and fitness complex.

Decisions about some of this growth, and these projects, will be made at the city or state level. Others will be made by private businesses. And while Downtown Rising isn't meant to supplant the city's master plan or the plans of individual business owners, the chamber hopes decision makers will use it as a kind of "guiding hand."

Drawing depicts the Skyline District, a cosmopolitan area featuring tall buildings.Image By Paul Brown"The city will evolve through the aggregate decisions of thousands of players — businesses and state and local government," said Keith Rattie, president and chief executive of Questar Corp. and chairman of the Salt Lake Chamber's Board of Governors. "What this vision is intended to do is provide a context for those future decisions. For this to have useful life, and to really have an impact on the community, it's going to require the ownership of a lot of entities. Not just business, but state and city officials."

Part of the beauty of the plan, Beattie said, is its high-altitude perspective. While it does recommend building certain facilities, improving certain city streets, creating a certain "feel," it doesn't dictate when. It doesn't say what should happen first, or next. It kicks in as opportunities arise and needs present themselves.

"When this ought to be done is when things are redone," Beattie said. "When we talk about the growth of a new theater, we aren't saying it ought to be here next year or in 10 years. But what we are saying is that when we are ready as a community for a large theater that would attract national shows, it ought to be part of downtown Salt Lake City."

Bruce Bingham, a partner at real estate development and investment firm Hamilton Partners and one of the Downtown Rising participants, said he was pleased with the final product.
"I think that what they have generated is going to be strong enough and long enough to have an impact for generations on Salt Lake City," Bingham said. "They have done as thorough a job as could possibly have been done, in getting input from stakeholders and others in downtown, and from the public, academicians, experts, the whole gamut.

"They've focused on Salt Lake City's position as a world-class city, as an environmentally friendly location, as a business-appropriate and business-friendly climate, with all of the public facilities and cultural elements. They haven't missed much, if anything."

© 2007 Deseret News Publishing

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