A site of tragedy Wednesday will be a site for celebration and entertainment during the 2002 Winter Games.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has agreed to loan Block 85, located east of the Triad Center between North Temple and South Temple on 300 West, to the Salt Lake Organizing Committee to use as a medal ceremony plaza during the Winter Games."The church wants to be a community citizen, and this is a way it can help," said church spokesman Mike Otterson.
The block is currently used as a parking lot for Delta Center activities. The lot was supposed to be the site this week for the Outdoor Retailers show and was one of the area's hit hardest by Wednesday's tornado.
"Heroes will be honored there, and we also hope to find a way to memorialize during the Games those who (were killed and injured) there today," SLOC President Mitt Romney said Wednesday.
One person was killed and dozens injured as people were preparing for the show and the tornado touched down and shredded the metal-framed exhibition tents. The show will now be held indoors at the Salt Palace.
The church will also contribute manpower and help fund the transformation of the block from a parking lot to the medal ceremony plaza. Officials from SLOC are still designing and drafting plans for the plaza, and the cost at this time is unknown, although Romney has said in the past it would be about $5 million.
"We don't know what the total price tag will be. . . . This is a generous offer that will offer us some budget relief," said Shelley Thomas, SLOC vice president of public communications.
Presiding Bishop H. David Burton of the church said no tithing money will be used to develop the site. The funding will come from profits generated by church-owned businesses.
SLOC officials have been eyeing the block for months as a possible ceremony plaza because of its close proximity to other Olympic sites including the Delta Center, the Salt Palace Convention Center and Abravanel Hall. The block is also one of the few in downtown with no structures that would need to be demolished.
"This was always our first choice, and we asked the church if it would consider making this donation to us," Thomas said.
The Delta Center across the street will be the venue for short-track speed skating and figure skating. The Salt Palace will be converted to the Main Press Center. Media housing will likely be in the new Gateway Center to the west. Cultural events and the International Olympic Committee session that precedes the Games will be held at Abravanel Hall. Officials also hope to locate the sponsor village nearby.
Romney said the nightly medal ceremonies and accompanying entertainment will give Utahns and visitors a chance to "have an Olympic experience without having to purchase a ticket."
SLOC officials expect more than 20,000 spectators will gather at the medal plaza each night during the Games.
"We think it's the best site for a festival atmosphere. We feel the main activities will be in this area," Thomas said.
The plaza will have controlled access. That means it will be fenced, and visitors will have to pass through a security gate.
When the plaza design work will be finished and when work on the block will begin is uncertain. However, it is likely that the parking lot will be closed several months before the Olympics. Church officials say they haven't decided what to do with the block after the Olympics.
Because of the number of visitors expected downtown each night during the Games, SLOC officials are working with Salt Lake officials on a transportation plan. Thomas said that plan will go through a public process and hearings will be held once a plan is ready.