SALT LAKE CITY — If members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints learned anything during last October's general conference, it is the way conference can change their lives.
Granted, there is rarely the kind of far-reaching social and cultural impact Latter-day Saints have experienced during the six months that have elapsed since church President Thomas S. Monson sent shock waves through Mormonism with his Saturday morning announcement lowering the minimum age for full-time missionary service for both young men and young women. Still, as LDS faithful gather this weekend at the church's downtown Conference Center and in front of television sets, radios and computer screens all around the world, they do so fully anticipating to be impacted again individually and collectively by the 183rd Annual General Conference of the church.
For Latter-day Saints, the ways they may be affected are largely spiritual and deeply personal. President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the church's First Presidency, said, "There are messages in each general conference given as a gift and a blessing from heaven specifically for our personal life situations."
But there are other more physical, tangible effects every six months as general conference is held in the city that serves as the church's world headquarters. Those effects, felt by church members and non-Latter-day Saints alike, are also anticipated — and appreciated.
“Obviously it’s a positive impact to have 100,000 people coming downtown,” said Jason Mathis, executive director of the Downtown Alliance. “Our downtown area has changed pretty dramatically in the past few years. And there are more exciting changes to come during the next two years.”
Mathis said public opinion surveys indicate religious activities are one of the main reasons people come to downtown Salt Lake City. “Our challenge,” he said, “is getting the people who come downtown for conference or to visit Temple Square or church headquarters to move past the City Creek Center and experience the rest of downtown.”
Conversely, Salt Lake City Council Chair Kyle LaMalfa grew up in Salt Lake City but never went to Temple Square — at least, not until last October when he attended a general conference session for the first time. He was impressed with how nice and friendly everyone was, and now he’s more committed than ever to help those nice people move freely throughout the city’s downtown area.
“We’re not interested in taking away from the reverence of general conference,” he said. “But we do want to make sure that when people are here in the city they are able to enjoy all that we have to offer.”
To that end, he said, city officials are working on several initiatives that should be in place by the LDS Church’s 183rd Semiannual General Conference in October. While he declined to share details of those initiative, he did say that "this isn’t about trying to get conference-goers to spend more money in Salt Lake City or anything like that. It’s about this city and helping people to enjoy it — all of it.”
Meanwhile, just like landscapers on Temple Square, businesses in the downtown area — especially those closest to the Conference Center — have been making preparations for the expected impacts of this weekend's conference.
“We have to really step up our orders to make sure we have enough food on hand for conference,” said Daniel Hernandez, manager of the Kneaders Bakery and Café at City Creek Center, across the street from the LDS Church complex. “And nobody on the staff gets conference days off.”
Hernandez said that after conference sessions let out, the lines extend out of the restaurant and wrap around the mall.
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