Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson has reservations about the redevelopment of downtown Salt Lake City.
Thursday, he questioned some of the plans of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and called for a more open public discussion of the church's $500 million downtown redevelopment project.
While he likes the housing and mixed-use aspects of the project, the mayor said it may have been a mistake for the church to partner with Michigan-based mall developer Taubman Co.
Instead, the church should consult urban and downtown planners and work to create a more walkable, traditional downtown setting with smaller, cut-up blocks and less enclosed retail, he said.
"Everybody ought to be talking to urban design and downtown redesign specialists and talking about what our downtown should be," Anderson said "The city as a whole has a huge stake in this."
Thursday, LDS Church spokesman Dale Bills said the church and its development team wouldn't comment on the mayor's concerns.
Anderson doesn't like current plans to create a new massive enclosed mall on much of the space that currently houses two massive enclosed malls the ZCMI Center and Crossroads Plaza.
"Our downtown should not be comprised of a huge mall," Anderson said, adding, "I've never liked the idea of relying upon enclosed malls for this project. . . . I'm concerned about an enclosed mall suddenly becoming the main focus of our downtown."
Still, Anderson told reporters after speaking at the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics that there was little the city could do to stop Taubman and the church from building a new enclosed mall.
The mayor pledged that he and his staffers will vigorously insist that city zoning requirements and master plans be followed and renewed his commitment to fight against any sky bridge that could connect two mall halves over Main Street.
"There's not a city you can point to in the world that put an enclosed mall in the core of the city and people pointed to it and said, 'That's what makes this a great city,' " Anderson said.
The mayor said current downtown plans seem to envision a replication of The Gateway shopping center. "We shouldn't be trying to replicate Gateway just putting a roof over the top of it," he said.
Instead, the mayor said, something like San Diego's Gas Lamp District would be a better option. The enclosed mall dilemma is especially frustrating for Anderson because he knows the church is trying to make Salt Lake City better but, in the mayor's mind, is just missing the mark.
"I know the church is not doing this to make money. They're doing this to make a great city," he said.
The city's downtown master plan, adopted in 1995, calls for, among other things, opening up downtown's large blocks.
"A system of center-of-the-block walkways should be developed to shorten the distance pedestrians must walk between locations and provide a secondary transportation system," the plan reads. "These walkways should be at ground level."
Chuck Klingenstein, president of the American Planning Association Utah Chapter, said it's difficult to criticize all enclosed mall projects because some have worked while many have failed. It's especially difficult to criticize the church's plans for downtown Salt Lake City because so little is known about the specifics. He agreed with Anderson that a public process and more information would serve the project well.
"The one thing I would like to see on this is a public process," he said. "Right now a lot of this planning has been done in a vacuum."
While a public process could open the project up for criticism, it gets many eyes focused on the project and would provide the developers with loads of free comments and information from professionals. Developers could use the good ideas and ignore the bad ones.
"You get a great deal of information from the best and the brightest, and it doesn't cost much," Klingenstein said.
City Council Chairman Dale Lambert agrees that the best thing the church's downtown development crew could to is release more information and take public comments in an open house-type setting. That said, Lambert believes the development crew is making the malls more open and pedestrian friendly, based on preliminary drawings he has seen.
"The conceptual plans I have seen I wouldn't dismiss as enclosed malls," he said. "Yeah, I think more openness and more public information would help. People would feel more invested and more excited about the new project."
Church officials and Taubman leaders have said they plan for a two-story enclosed mall with loads of glass storefront that will let a lot of sunshine and mountain views into the malls.
Anderson said initial indications were that the development plan would include opening up the two, 10-acre blocks and bring back midblock streets like Richards Street, which was buried under Crossroads Plaza. Now it seems that those efforts have been shelved, Anderson said.
In a May 2003 interview with the Deseret Morning News, the architect for the new downtown project, Ronald Pastore, principal of AEW Capital Management, said he envisioned the two blocks would become something akin to Davis Square in Somerville, Mass., a suburb of Boston.
The square is a walkable mix of of food, beverage, entertainment, retail and housing.
The square contains an independent movie theater, a dozen restaurants, a half-dozen bars and high-density housing accompanying single-family homes all fed by a mass-transit system.
"Give it 10 years, and I think you can have something like Davis Square here," Pastore said nearly two years ago.
Still, Pastore never mentioned getting rid of the two malls and even suggested connecting them in some way. He has said in other interviews the plans are in flux and could change.
Anderson said Thursday he would consider closing Main Street between 100 South and South Temple to cars and leaving it open only for pedestrians and TRAX riders to walk between the two downtown malls.Main could be closed for a couple weekends "as an experiment to see how people like it," Anderson said. If the idea was popular, it could become permanent, he said.