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Convention center opening key in overall downtown Provo development

Published: Saturday, March 17 2012 5:18 p.m. MDT

The Utah Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau, the official destination marketing organization for Utah County, announced that it is offering a sneak peek of the nearly completed Utah Valley Convention Center located in historic downtown Provo, Utah.

Sam Penrod, Deseret News

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PROVO — Planning and serendipity are each playing significant roles in the downtown revitalization effort here that takes a big step forward with the May 12 launch of the Utah Valley Convention Center.

"It's huge. It's the facilitator for economic development in a very large way," Provo Mayor John Curtis said of the convention center. "What we're seeing now is the result of decades of hard work by many people."

Utah County bonded to built the $42 million facility. Commission Chairman Larry Ellertson said a planning objective is to "bring people into the area and give them a good experience, one that causes them to want them to return."

The county is also banking on the convention center bringing about $18 million a year to the local economy, and that it will be a catalyst for additional commercial development, including more restaurants and destination hotels.

Serendipity came into play in December 2010, after an accidental fire gutted the LDS Church's historic downtown tabernacle.

"No one is glad the tabernacle burned. That was a huge loss," Curtis said. The church announced the following April it would rebuild the tabernacle as a temple, which will turn a landmark that is dear to the hearts of Provo locals into something that attracts more visitors and prompts additional downtown development and renovation.

"All the city planning in the world would not have delivered an LDS temple in the downtown area," Curtis said. "In one fell swoop it was like everything happening downtown was on steroids. Everything took a leap forward with that announcement."

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has since purchased two properties on the block south of the temple project and purchased a parking stack just west of the tabernacle from NuSkin.

The church also wants to buy the segment of 100 South between the temple site and the block south so it can join the two blocks. The city's Planning Commission on Wednesday recommended the city approve that sale.

Conspicuously out of place with the other changes is the aging downtown post office that occupies the west half of the block south of the temple site. There are conversations about moving the post office so the entire block can be part of the temple grounds, though no formal plans have been announced, and a regional spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service said it has not received a formal request for the property.

"Anybody who looks at the layout there, who's talking about the long-term, has their eye on the post office," Curtis said.

The Utah Valley Convention & Visitors Bureau has its eye on the temple project as well. Joel Racker, the bureau's president and CEO, is watching to see whether the church demolishes the NuSkin parking stack and builds new underground parking, like the church did with its City Creek project in downtown Salt Lake City.

"What I've heard is that they're going to take it all down and go underground," he said. "You look at what they've done at City Creek, and they've done a fabulous job."

The convention staff is also laying plans for conventions that have nothing to do with the temple project. Provo's Municipal Council unanimously approved a new category of beer license one week ago that will accommodate public events at the convention center.

Racker said the change makes the community welcoming to people attending conventions but allows Provo to maintain its sense of place. "We're trying to be uniquely Provo."

Provo, as a convention destination, is being promoted as having a historic feel, Racker said. "Our tag line is 'accessible, affordable and credible.' "

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