University of Utah student compiles report on skybridges

Published: Tuesday, April 1 2008 12:00 a.m. MDT

Kathleen Hill hadn't paid much attention to plans for City Creek Center until a little more than a year ago when she saw a model of the LDS Church's proposed two-block downtown development at City Hall.

"I was horrified," Hill said. "I couldn't believe there was even consideration of putting a skybridge over Main Street."

Since then, she has been an active participant in the project's public process, speaking out against the proposed pedestrian walkway over Main Street to link the second levels of retail of the planned outdoor mall.

Hill calls skybridges "an outdated an inferior design," and she says constructing one over Main Street would weaken the sense of community on which Salt Lake City was built.

"In honoring (Salt Lake City's pioneer) heritage and tradition, it's important in our planning and development to really look closely and consider the choices we make in our stewardship with the land," she said.

Hill, a graduate student at the University of Utah, is completing a master's degree in urban planning and is preparing to begin a Ph.D program. For nearly a year she researched skybridges in urban settings and compiled her findings in a 43-page report titled "Preserving Life of the Street."

"I felt like someone needed to speak up and say, 'This isn't the right concept for our Main Street,"' she said. "Someone needed to gather a body of information to say, 'This is a bad move. Let's come up with another option."'

Hill cites several sources supporting her conclusion that skybridges hinder street-level pedestrian activity and promote segregation and separation. "Planning and design professionals are all standing up and saying that skybridges don't work in this setting," she said.

Taubman Centers Inc., The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' development partner for City Creek Center, contends the skybridge is vital to the project's success.

Ron Loch, Taubman's vice president over planning and design, said two levels of retail are necessary to make City Creek Center a regional draw that can "survive, thrive and compete with suburban retail centers."

Linking the second levels of retail centers will allow the two blocks to work together as one to accommodate the 10 million people City Creek Center is expected to draw annually, Loch said.

"That's the primary reason (the skybridge) is required," he said. "It's absolutely essential."

The need for a second-level pedestrian walkway remains a point of contention for skybridge critics and at least one member of the Salt Lake City Council, which will decide the skybridge's fate next week.

Luke Garrott, the first-year councilman representing District 4, which includes downtown, said he "highly doubts" that the financial viability of the project depends on the skybridge.

"I think there are a lot of other factors that go into the success and failure of a project," Garrott said.

That said, the City Council members are forced take at face value developers' claims that second-level retail must have a pedestrian connector and that shoppers won't tolerate anything other than a closed bridge, he said.

That causes Garrott some "disquietude," he said, because those "imperatives" are created and solely judged by the developers.

Other council members also have concerns about the skybridge that they say need to be resolved before deciding April 8 whether to sell or lease air rights above Main Street.

In April 2007, the City Council approved amendments to the city's master plan to allow for skybridges in certain circumstances.

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