Salt Lake Mayor Palmer DePaulis is quick to point out what the Regional/Urban Design Assistance Team, a group of urban planners that studied downtown Salt Lake City in June, can do for his city.
"As people begin to see the vision of what downtown could be," he said, "all of the sudden we're developing some momentum and people are saying, `Hey, I want my corporate headquarters located here.' "Although R/UDAT doesn't guarantee a gilded path for urban renewal, some of the 100 cities visited by R/UDAT have seen tangible benefits. The Deseret News talked to officials from two of R/UDAT's more recent success stories - Boise, Idaho, and Baton Rouge, La.
Boise's downtown was deteriorating rapidly when R/UDAT arrived in October 1985 to put the city's downtown under the same microscope through which it viewed Utah's capital.
Like many cities in decline, Boise seemed unable to rally around a common plan of action to stop the decline, said Jeff Shneider, Idaho chapter president of the American Institute of Architects.
But R/UDAT changed that dramatically, he said.
"Whether direct or indirect, the fact is downtown Boise is cooking now," he said. "The principal result of R/UDAT was bringing a public forum together and forming a consensus for long-range planning," he said.
Boise developers and planners were sometimes at loggerheads over R/UDAT recommendations and still disagree over whether R/UDAT has actually had an impact on urban planning there, according to Shneider.
"But R/UDAT said, `You better get together - right or wrong - and figure out a plan for Boise's future,"' he said. "You've got to have enough commitment or it (the R/UDAT study) will sit on a shelf."
Since R/UDAT's arrival in 1985, Boise has seen a plethora of successful development projects in the downtown area. An aesthetically pleasing 500-stall parking complex with retail shops at the pedestrian level has just opened, and ground was broken recently on a $10 million downtown convention center and a $500,000 bus transit center, Shneider said.
A year later, R/UDAT was surveying Baton Rouge, La. But unlike the Salt Lake study, which was confined to the downtown district, the Baton Rouge survey encompassed an urban county with a population of more than 600,000.
"Nobody knew where we were headed," said Baton Rouge architect and R/UDAT leader Raymond "Skipper" Post - a reference to the helter-skelter manner in which Baton Rouge was growing and developing under the boom and bust cycles created by the Louisiana oil industry.
After a long campaign to generate interest and funding to bring R/UDAT to town, the team conducted a whirlwind tour of the expansive metropolitan area and made three major recommendations for Baton Rouge's future.
R/UDAT identified a "failure of communication between citizens and the city government," Post said. To solve the problem, the team recommended the city establish 16 citizen districts to "coordinate dialogue between citizens and government."
City Hall seized on the idea, reducing the number of districts to 10 and appointing a member of the mayor's staff to coordinate the groups, which meet in periodic town meetings.
"Some meetings are good; some are bad. But they were always successful in generating input and flow of information," Post said.
R/UDAT's second recommendation called for the city to develop a comprehensive master plan - a plan eventually approved by voters in an April referendum. Planners are just now beginning the planning process.
R/UDAT also recommended that Florida Street - known in Baton Rouge as the dividing line between the affluent south and the impoverished north - become the city's "living room," Post said.
City officials now are working to promote shopping centers, a bus-transportation center and other development along Florida Street to make it a central gathering place and to erase the concept of north versus south," he said.
Like Salt Lake City, where officials say R/UDAT brought a sense of unity to efforts to redevelop the downtown, R/UDAT was successful in creating harmony from disharmony in both Boise and Baton Rouge. In both cities, R/UDAT brought a city in disagreement to agree on a course to follow for urban redevelopment.
City officials and civic leaders in Utah hope to continue that trend.