Shadows cast by Salt Lake City's skyline against the Wasatch Front could one day be those of a dynamic, vibrant downtown - attracting people and businesses much like shoppers to a pre-Christmas sale.
Such is the silhouette the Regional/Urban Design Assistance team - the Frank Lloyd Wrights of modern urban planning - envisioned for Utah's capital city following a six-day study of Salt Lake City's downtown last June.Their intensive study of the central business district culminated in the release of an oft-quoted report filled with pencil drawings, maps and scores of recommendations for revitalizing the city's ailing downtown.
Now city officials say they are in an "implementation phase" of the plan, when the sometimes nebulous recommendations must be shaped into the alluring urban landscapes captured in the report.
But is the picture painted by the 62-page R/UDAT report a template of what Salt Lake City actually will be? Or is it simply so many doodles of pie-in-the-sky visionaries?
Salt Lake Mayor Palmer DePaulis believes the former is true. "R/UDAT is showing more promise than vision," he said. "We're not going in circles anymore; I think we're making tremendous progress."
Some of R/UDAT's recommendations seek results so far down the road that many of R/UDAT's ideas run the risk of becoming like so many other planning documents now collecting dust on city shelves.
Officials point, however, to a number of R/UDAT recommendations that have already started to take shape in the halls of government, on Salt Lake's streets, and in the board rooms where developers are planning new downtown high-rises.
DePaulis and other R/UDAT backers, including members of the R/UDAT Steering Committee, the Capital City Committee and Planning and Zoning Division officials, applaud a number of immediate R/UDAT successes.
Foremost among those is a developing consensus on the direction in which downtown redevelopment must go.
Developing this community consensus is paramount for R/UDAT and those who have taken active roles in implementing its recommendations, said Jack Dunlop, who chairs the Capital City Committee, a group of businessmen assembled by DePaulis to help with downtown redevelopment efforts.
Allen Johnson, the city's planning and zoning director, said nearly citywide acceptance of the study has given his office, responsible for carrying out many of the R/UDAT recommendations, an important sounding board.
"We're using it as what might be considered a mechanism for citizen's input," he said. It gives us a sense of what direction the city wants to go."
R/UDAT was important in reaffirming several planning and zoning initiatives, such as the Downtown Master Plan and the Urban Design Element of Salt Lake City's master plan, Johnson said.
The consensus hailed by so many officials was severely tested recently by a controversial city demolition control ordinance. The ordinance was touted by many as the salvation of downtown, but decried by developers who said it would shackle their hands.
"I think there's clearly a sense of disappointment on my part," said UTA head John Pingree, a member of the R/UDAT Steering Committee, who petitioned the city to consider the ordinance.
"The community had great diversity over this issue, and one of the purposes of R/UDAT is to bring the community together," he said.
Despite R/UDAT's occasional detractors, Dunlop said, civic leaders, businessmen and the community have nevertheless rallied around the document as a guiding principle for Salt Lake City.
"The community will not succeed in redeveloping downtown if the major stakeholders (the city, the LDS Church, developers, the business community and neighborhoods) can't support a single vision and strategy for downtown," the study said.
Officials say there are other, more tangible examples of how R/UDAT is affecting downtown. R/UDAT, for example, is helping to shape the eventual construction of a new sports arena affiliated with the Utah Jazz basketball team.
San Francisco architect Charles Davis, a member of the R/UDAT team who made the original study of the area, returned to Salt Lake City in October to lobby for locating the new center closer to the Salt Palace Complex.
The county task force considered R/UDAT's recommendation for locating the facility, now planned for 18,500 seats, on a block bounded by South Temple, First South, Third West and Fourth West. Alternative locations are farther south.
Down the street from where the Jazz may one day be dribbling basketballs is a downtown area that R/UDAT planners see as undergoing a metamorphosis from warehouse district to arts center.
Robert L. Bliss, a member of the R/UDAT Steering Committee, a group of architects and other urban planners helping to guide R/UDAT, points to Pierpont Avenue, a small street lined by restaurants, art galleries and other shops, as evidence of another R/UDAT success.
City crews are already building a new sidewalk that could be the first step of a pedestrian network that would eventually link nearly every block in the downtown area - a concept embraced by R/UDAT, Bliss said.
Not just the city, but the state as well is moving in step with R/UDAT. State officials are building one office building and considering others in the southern downtown area, which would fulfill a R/UDAT vision of a governmental center anchor there.
Invoking the name of R/UDAT, Gov. Norm Bangerter and DePaulis announced recently that the state will build a new building for the state Department of Employment Security on Block 53, which is bound by State and Second East, Third South and Fourth South.
The state Court Administrators Office has also discussed building a juvenile court building in the southern downtown area. Other court-related facilities would follow.
The judicial center is another R/UDAT suggestion that a governmental center, complete with a large public plaza, be built near the renovated City-County Building in order to attract people into the southern downtown area.
Off city streets and inside the plush boardrooms the R/UDAT report is being carefully thumbed through by developers proposing three private office towers for the downtown areas.
"My proposal is consistent with the recommendations made by R/
UDAT" is the common refrain of developers who have come before the city's Redevelopment Agency seeking financial support for building downtown.
And RDA Chairwoman Florence Bittner said it's pleasing to know developers are now singing the city's tune. "We certainly support and encourage developers to stay with R/UDAT."
Other footprints have been left by the R/UDAT study in the downtown area, Bliss said. He points to passage by the Legislature of a law granting the city power to form a parking authority - a concept promoted by the R/UDAT study.
City officials lobbied on Capitol Hill for the law enabling the city to collect parking fees which will finance construction of city-owned parking structures. In the past, the city could only collect taxes from businesses benefiting from the facility to pay for construction costs.
Parking structures, city officials say, are powerful tools when wooing developers to build in the downtown area. The parking authority will be the first step toward the "comprehensive parking plan" called for in the study to control location and design of parking structures.
These accomplishments might not have occurred if a group of private citizens hadn't rallied support to bring R/UDAT here.
The R/UDAT Steering Committee, now chaired by architect John Pace, spent much of the summer in subcommittee meetings in the Art Barn on Salt Lake City's east side, while the Capital City Committee met in a vacant office building on the city's ailing Block 57 in the heart of downtown.
Pace said now that the implementation phase has been reached, both groups will want to follow through.
R/UDAT is not traveling a completely gilded path, though. Pace and Dunlop point fingers at each other's group, suggesting things aren't always harmonious.
Dunlop calls the Steering Committee too autonomous. Pace objects there's too much power playing at R/UDAT's expense. And city officials talk privately about a small rivalry brewing between the two groups.
Even Pace acknowledges the R/UDAT plan could boil down into a muddied soup because of all the cooks in the kitchen. But the varied groups tap the "grassroots" interests necessary to successfully implement the recommendations, he said.
"I think there's room for other interests," Pace said. "The more people involved, the better the chance of seeing something come from it."
Dunlop notes that occasional dissent won't be the death of R/UDAT. "Consensus does not mean every person agrees," he said.
The debate surrounding the demolition ordinance is perhaps the best example of that. The issue sharply divided those supporting and opposing the ordinance. Many considered the dissension unfortunate because R/UDAT is expressly designed to build consensus.
But even with dissension over the issue, Johnson found a silver lining.
"Regardless of the outcome of the ordinance, the thing that interested me and gave me a glimmer of hope was the number of people who participated. We're at a time in downtown when people are ready to do things by participating and making their feelings known . . . . That's what's exciting," he said.