PROVO — News that the burned-out shell of the LDS Church's Provo Tabernacle will be rebuilt as a temple fits ideally with years of ongoing downtown redevelopment and has the wheels turning even faster at City Hall.
"This complements decades of work and preserves the building, which is the most important thing to Provo residents," Mayor John Curtis said Monday.
The work the temple complements is the revitalization of the downtown area, where highrise offices, newer city facilities and a not-yet-finished convention center are still the backdrop to Center Street facades that are tired looking and in disrepair.
The city is offering facade renovation grants to downtown businesses, waiving building fees and working to condemn and demolish one shuttered Center Street storefront.
Dixon Holmes, deputy mayor for economic development, said he is typing up a proposal to offer grants to businesses that want to paint the exterior of their buildings. "The city is also working on developing new street signs and street-scape standards."
Plans for a temple will allow the city to move faster on "the last 10 to 20 percent" of the revitalizing work that remains, Curtis said.
A light fixture in the attic that had temporarily been set on a wooden speaker box as lighting crews prepared for a Christmas concert started a fire that gutted the historic tabernacle in December. The tabernacle was in frequent use to that point, though not as essential as it once was because of the addition of other facilities in Provo that could accommodate concerts, religious services and other community gatherings.
"Almost instantly (after the fire) I started getting texts and calls from people saying 'we have to save the tabernacle,'" the mayor said, though that decision ultimately rested with the building's owner, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
On Saturday, LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson announced plans to rebuild the tabernacle as a temple during the church's semiannual general conference. Except for an artist's rendering, the church has not yet elaborated on its plans for the temple.
When the city learned the church planned to rebuild the tabernacle as a temple, the mayor's reaction was: "How natural for that building. I think a lot of people in Provo feel the same way," he said.
Redevelopment Agency Director Paul Glauser said news the tabernacle will be rebuilt as a temple "has the potential to be a game changer for downtown."
Where the tabernacle was a picturesque backdrop on the downtown landscape that occasionally attracted crowds for concerts and other events, a temple will bring a daily stream of patrons and visitors downtown.
"Then we're hoping when they come downtown, they'll see what else is happening downtown and stay for dinner or whatever," Glauser said. "I think it's huge."
They mayor said he could see the new temple becoming a destination attraction for a broad population of people who have ties to Provo — either by living there while students at Brigham Young University or during a shorter stay at the Missionary Training Center. "We're used to how many people have come through Provo on their way out into the world."
A recently updated Google map gives a great view of the tabernacle shell and its surroundings, including parcels the church recently bought on the block south of the tabernacle: a Travelodge Motel and a restaurant building south of that. The church is also buying a city-owned lot on the southeast corner of the block.
"I think the church is pretty well done with acquisitions," Curtis said of plans to enlarge holdings around the tabernacle.
Without saying whether he knows what the church's overall construction plans are, Curtis said "I believe, in general, you will see the existing walls be the structure for that temple," and that completion of the project is still "a couple of years away."
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