We want a vibrant downtown Salt Lake City — a gathering place for our region. As someone who has been working on planning issues in Salt Lake City for over 20 years, I praise LDS Church leaders for the vision and insight that is reflected in the City Creek Center downtown development plan. This project may set a new, quality development standard for Salt Lake City.

City Creek Center will be the centerpiece of a puzzle that joins together sometimes disparate elements. Light rail is an unqualified success in moving people efficiently into downtown. With the addition of the multi-modal center and commuter rail (plus some additional circulation pieces under discussion), and 5,000 underground parking spaces at City Creek Center, downtown will have a relatively well-functioning transportation system that knits it together. We are close to capacity for offices downtown now, and new office buildings (in addition to the City Creek Center) are being developed to meet anticipated demand. Downtown is the home of a major symphony and opera, dance companies, the Utah Jazz and many smaller performing arts and sports venues. We have many excellent restaurants and shops, and our hotels serve a growing need. Visitors and convention attendees, with local assistance, can find evening entertainment. And we have immediate, direct access to our mountains through City Creek Canyon.

Last year, I had the opportunity to attend a meeting with LDS Church leaders on this plan. At that time, the draft plan reminded me of a modern version of the ZCMI and Crossroads Mall development with few attractions and limited residential use. There are important modifications to the development plan. It's clear the church leaders considered and incorporated the early feedback and comments they solicited from community leaders and overhauled their original plans.

Today, the plans have transformed the massive development into a plan that approaches our spectacular mountain setting. The church's plan to bring the south arm of City Creek to the surface with ample open, green space will serve as the focal point of activity and greatly enhances the attractiveness of the entire design. Opening up visual corridors through the city blocks will highlight the mountain scenes that create a striking backdrop for Salt Lake City and help make us such a unique and special community. And the addition of over 600 units of housing and a full-service grocery store will bring additional 24-hour clientele to the downtown.

The disruption effects on the community of a long construction project must be handled far better than the last downtown light rail and streetscape project. And, if we can move portions of the project forward more quickly toward completion and institute other activity-generating projects in the interim, Salt Lake City's downtown will fare better. While there are still important, concerning elements to be hammered out by Salt Lake City decisionmakers, like preserving the historic Deseret Building and eliminating the Main Street skybridge, City Creek Center offers the likelihood that Salt Lake City will take a giant step to achieving its potential as one of America's great cities.

Ralph Becker has a planning and law degree from the University of Utah. He has spent much of his career learning the keys to environmentally healthy and sustainable communities and regions. He also serves as Democratic leader in the Utah House of Representatives.