Roughly 150 Salt Lakers tinkered with LEGO blocks and sketched out plans Saturday for the city's proposed public-safety complex east of the Salt Lake City Main Library.
"It's a very useful tool," said Jack Hammond, of the American Institute of Architects, which oversaw the daylong workshop. "It gives people a chance to try and solve these problems themselves."
Seated around maps of the city's proposed "civic campus," groups of amateur planners mapped out building sites for an emergency-operations center and a police and fire administration building.
Most seemed to agree on one thing: Leave Library Square alone.
"If they have to put it (on 300 East), put it across the street," said Brandon Creer, a regular library patron who stumbled across the design workshop Saturday.
Lisa Sewell, director of the Utah Arts Festival, preferred placing two curved buildings wrapped around a swath of open space on the east side of the street.
It has "been a challenge" to program on the east side of the library block, Sewell said, and expanding the open area there would help with that.
"This has been helpful," she said of the workshop. "They needed this process three months ago."
Mayor Ralph Becker said he plans to make his recommendation for the complex site as early as June 3, following another public meeting Monday night.
The timing has some concerned that a decision has already been made.
"That tells me that this is a done deal," said Gerald McDonough. "Everything we're doing here now seems to be moot."
After an "uproar" of opposition to building on the library block, some worried the city had already jeopardized the success of the November bond issue that would cover the cost of replacing the dilapidated police headquarters on 200 South.
Still, others believed city leaders hoped an increased police presence around the library would drive out the homeless who often sleep on the grassy area.
Asked about that issue, architect Jose Palacios pointed to Los Angeles' new police headquarters.
"The streets have been cleaned up considerably," Palacios said.
Salt Lake Police Chief Chris Burbank, however, said it is "not a homeless issue." Rather, police and emergency-response officials need to be near the city's policy makers in the event of a major emergency, Burbank said.
During the workshop, residents also addressed design principles the city should consider if officials finally settle on building on 300 East. Those ideas ranged from water features and curved buildings that would complement the award-winning library, to regular programming and mixed-use projects along the pedestrian spine.
Tom Guinney, former head of the Downtown Alliance and owner of Gastronomy restaurants, said the project needs a public-art element, but he cautioned against putting retail on a public block.
Saturday's workshop would help create a consensus about the project, Guinney said, because residents would be forced to address the full gamut of building requirements and design issues on their own.
Becker, meanwhile, said the city has received an outpouring of comments about the project, including a list of alternate locations from Brigham City to Draper.
"There's obviously been quite an uproar," he said. "That will continue to weigh heavily for me and the recommendation I make to the council."
Public-safety complex meeting
7 p.m. Monday
Salt Lake City Police Department Pioneer Precinct
1040 W. 700 South