Whenever the vitality of downtown Salt Lake City is mentioned, inevitably the conversation focuses on Block 57, the area bounded by Second and Third South and Main and State streets.
Plagued by two lawsuits, closed retail stores and on-and-off-again proposals to rehabilitate the area, the block has been the focal point of downtown because it is located in the center of an area the Salt Lake Redevelopment Agency is attempting to rejuvenate.Block 57 was mentioned several times Tuesday during the Salt Lake Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Governors, which focused on what is being done to inject vitality into the downtown area, especially the south end of the retail area.
What surfaced was the realization there are 26 entities, ranging from the business owners' association to government agencies, focusing on promoting or rehabilitating the downtown area.
Michael Chitwood, redevelopment agency executive director, said his organization has purchased the northeast corner of Block 57, some buildings have been razed and a portion will be paved as a temporary parking lot. Chitwood said he hopes to sell that section next August to a developer and construction will begin next year.
Chitwood said the Morris Pacific Co. is attempting to find a buyer for the northwest corner of the block, currently occupied by the closed J. C. Penney Building. He said other portions of the block cannot be purchased and developed until the lawsuits are completely settled.
I. J. Wagner, a member of the chamber's board of governors, said it isn't a good plan for the redevelopment agency to purchase only the corners and let the inside of the block remain in poor condition.
John M. Pingree, Utah Transit Authority general manager and chairman of the chamber's Downtown Committee, said a Regional Urban Design Assistance Team from the American Institute of Architects will be in Salt Lake City in early May to offer suggestions on what can be done to revitalize the downtown area.
Pingree said a six-member team will study a large part of the downtown area with special emphasis on Block 57. Ron Straca, Denver, an architect who has been the advance man on other RUDAT projects, has been in Salt Lake City to "get a feel for what needs to be done."
Straca believes the timing is right for such a study, especially because Block 57 has been mentioned as the end terminal for a light rail system that is being studied. Pingree said the team will hold a public meeting, speak to groups, make suggestions and leave.
The group, made up of experts in their fields, comesto Salt Lake City for no salary, but expenses will be paid by private contributions.
Allen Johnson, acting Salt Lake City planning director, said city planning is constantly being reviewed and what occurs depends on what the zoning ordinance allows. He said the downtown area is zoned to provide a mixture of commercial and residential use and there are no density requirements.
He said the city encourages the use of existing buildings because many of them are on the state register of historic sites.
Jack Dunlop, chairman of Mayor Palmer DePaulis' recently formed Downtown Committee, said the mayor is interested in developing all of Block 57, rather than doing it piecemeal. He said the 26 organizations with an interest in the downtown area must work together to accomplish the goals.
Fred S. Ball, chamber president and general manager, said he has placed himself between the property owners and the redevelopment agency and has a sealed enveloped containing the price that some will take for their land and buildings. However, he won't open the envelope until after the RUDAT has gone and recommendations on revitalization steps have been made.
Ball said he has been told the Utah Department of Employment Security is interested in its own building to consolidate its operation and he is trying to encourage state officials to build on Block 53, bounded by State Street and Second East and Third and Fourth South.
Others who spoke about their organizations' activities were Kent Money, chairman of the Central Business Improvement District, and Boyd Ware, president of the Retail Merchant's Association.