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Historic downtown Salt Lake streets to return as pedestrian walkways

Published: Monday, July 6 2015 10:13 a.m. MDT

H. David Burton, presiding bishop of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints discusses historic downtown during an Envision Utah fundraising breakfast Tuesday. (Keith Johnson, Deseret News) H. David Burton, presiding bishop of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints discusses historic downtown during an Envision Utah fundraising breakfast Tuesday. (Keith Johnson, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Water circulated through the reflecting pools Tuesday, and for the first time in a long time, something was moving on Richards Street.

The historic thoroughfare between Main and West Temple has been closed since the 1970s, a casualty of the now-demolished Crossroads Mall. But as construction continues at the LDS Church's City Creek Center, a trio of old streets — Richards, Regent and Social Hall Avenue — will make a comeback downtown as pedestrian pathways.

"They are legacy streets of years gone by," said H. David Burton, presiding bishop of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, during an Envision Utah fundraising breakfast Tuesday.

And if the 23-acre development is to be a successful part of the city's future, these thoroughfares of the past will play pivotal roles, officials said.

H. David Burton, presiding bishop of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints speaks during an Envision Utah fundraising breakfast Tuesday. (Keith Johnson, Deseret News) H. David Burton, presiding bishop of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints speaks during an Envision Utah fundraising breakfast Tuesday. (Keith Johnson, Deseret News)

"What we've learned about downtowns is that, for them to be vibrant, they have to be walkable," said Robert J. Grow, chairman of Envision Utah's board of trustees.

That has proven to be a difficult task given the city's massive blocks and wide streets, which were built under the direction of early LDS Church leader Brigham Young.

One Salt Lake City block could hold nine Portland, Ore., blocks. The streets, wide enough for a cart to turn around, are less friendly to pedestrians.

"I'm far from critical of that past prophet, but 660-foot blocks present an unusual problem when it comes to redevelopment," Bishop Burton said.

Regent Street will run north and south between State and Main, while Social Hall Avenue will provide east-west access through parts of the center.

Area map () Area map ()

City leaders said they welcome efforts to improve walkability.

"We're going to continue to look for opportunities to do that as we redevelop downtown," said Mayor Ralph Becker, who hopes the LDS Church's plan for lining Regent Street with restaurants will continue organically south to the Gallivan Center. "There's a lot of good thinking going on for that area. So that area would not be the back side of the block, but its own active space."

For now, Richards Street still dead ends mid-block, where construction crews are working through clouds of dust as the move toward an early 2012 completion date.

But with the first residents expected to move into the condominium towers that bookend Richards Street this summer, officials said the old street soon will have new life.

That's good news for Grow, who as a young attorney in 1976 helped convince city leaders to vacate the street to make room for the mall.

"I have felt guilty ever since," Grow told Bishop Burton. "You've helped me repent."

e-mail: afalk@desnews.com

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