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Construction projects changing landscape of downtown Provo

Published: Friday, May 11 2012 7:24 p.m. MDT

The new Utah Valley Convention Center at 220 W. Center will open Saturday, May 12, 2012.

Sam Penrod, Deseret News

PROVO — Two major events will take place here Saturday morning in what city leaders believe is just the beginning of a new feeling in the downtown area.

The new Utah Valley Convention Center opens this weekend, and the groundbreaking of a new LDS temple, where the fire-ravaged Provo Tabernacle once stood, is set for Saturday morning. But there's much more going on in Provo that might not be as obvious.

"A rising tide lifts all boats so to speak, and so if there is something we can do to help the community, it's going to eventually help us in return,” said Chris Neidiger, manager of the Communal Restaurant. “The more we partner with those around us, the more successful we will be as a restaurant and a business."

After three years in a remodeled storefront at 100 North and University Avenue, Communal is doing well. 

“Downtown has survived for decades on small business, and it will continue to do that," said Jared Morgan, executive director of Downtown Provo Inc., an effort launched five months ago to improve the city's business district.

Morgan said efforts are being made to help small businesses improve their storefronts with matching grants.

"There's a pretty good façade grant that we've gotten through the federal government to be helping all of the businesses redo their façades."

With work about to begin on the new Provo City Center LDS Temple, businesses know in the future, they can count on regular foot traffic to the area.

The groundbreaking for the second temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Provo will be held at 9 a.m. with Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the church's Quorum of the Twelve presiding.

Tickets are required to attend the ceremony, which will also be broadcast to LDS stake centers in and around Provo. Construction for the Provo City Center Temple should be complete in about two-and-a-half years.

The Provo City Center Temple will be built on the block southwest of the intersection of two of Provo's main arterial roads: Center Street and University Avenue. It is being constructed on the site of the Provo Tabernacle, a community landmark and gathering place from the time it was built in the 1880s until it was was destroyed by fire in December 2010.

April marked the halfway point for Nu Skin's $90 million Innovation Center in downtown Provo. The building is expected to be complete in the summer of 2013 and will house a research and development laboratory, retail space and a cafe.

And the brand-new Utah Valley Convention Center at 220 W. Center will officially open to the public at Saturday. The convention center's 85,578 square feet of meeting and garden space, 19,620 square feet of exhibit space and its 16,894-square-foot Grand Ballroom position the facility as larger than existing conference space in the Provo Marriott across the street and much, much smaller than the half-million square feet at the Salt Palace Convention Center in downtown Salt Lake City.

“It's truly unique, we have windows, everywhere” said Tennille Wanner, director of sales and marketing for the Utah Valley Convention Center. “We have beautiful views, it's something unlike any convention center in the area."

The $42 million facility is a big part of the downtown plan. Not only will it attract out-of-town conventions, but Wanner said consumer shows and meetings for local residents will be regular events at the center. The county is banking on the center to bring in about $18 million a year to the local economy.

"It's an opportunity to hold great meetings in a very quaint historic downtown that is really starting to turn around and thrive."

There is also a movement to get students to come downtown. There's free Wi-Fi and a rooftop concert series held the first Friday night of each month, just part of the plan to help revitalize commerce here in Provo's downtown.

“There's work to do, but the momentum is exciting,” Provo Mayor John Curtis said.

No one is more excited of the improvements in Provo's downtown than Curtis, who likes the ambiance people are starting to feel in the area.

He said he also saw improvements being made, even by those with a small stake in downtown.

“We're seeing lots of small investments, remodeling and painting and sprucing up of buildings and façades and things that are a good indicator that this is deeper than a few large investments in our city," he said.

Contributing: Viviane Vo-Duc

E-mail: spenrod@ksl.com

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