Chuck Davis thinks it's a problem that sidewalks in downtown Salt Lake City aren't soiled by Coke spills or chewing gum.
"You've got to be flexible enough to allow a little fun. Let's try to leaven the loaf," Davis said. "It's a little too clean down here. Let's make this place happen. Let's get some energy in here."Another major problem with Salt Lake's central business district, according to the San Francisco architect, is the holes cut by surface parking lots that carve up downtown blocks. Salt Lakers might not realize it, but they don't have a parking problem.
"To see so many surface parking lots in the downtown indicates there is not a hell of a lot (of development) going on. I don't think you can have a great downtown if it is salt-and-peppered with buildings and parking garages. It's a question of land use."
Davis is the leader of a volunteer team of urban experts, the Regional/Urban Design Assistance Team, who will be imported to Utah next weekend. He spoke at a Tuesday afternoon press conference after a whirlwind trip to prepare for the team's visit.
The team, a tool of the American Institute of Architects, is designed to provide objective, expert assistance as a catalyst to help a community with complex urban design problems. Salt Lake City is the 99th community to receive the benefit of a R/UDAT. Ogden had such a study last October.
The architect said he is surprised at the number of community leaders who talk about downtown in terms of the "vision" for its future. A vision connotes a lot more excitement than just a plain plan.
Salt Lake City has much going for it already. Major hotels, the Salt Palace complex, Symphony Hall and other cultural attractions are key elements.
But other factors are scaring potential developers away from the central business district.
"I think a lot of people would want to be involved downtown, but things like lawsuits and lawyers and Supreme Court decisions have a negative effect," he said, referring to troubles stalling development on prime downtown real estate, Block 57, the block bordered by Main and State streets and Second and Third South.
Davis said Salt Lake's R/UDAT will focus on the problems of the city's downtown, as well as the beleaguered Block 57. The team won't necessarily come up with any new plans, but will strive to create a consensus among the many diverse players with downtown interests.
A difficult question city officials need to address - even while constrained by tight budgets - is how to pay for public amenities, such as plazas, parks and parking garages, in an effort to lighten the load for developers.
That's even possible in a city with a "conservative" political climate, he said. "While you consider yourselves conservative, the same statements are made in such places that are supposed to be wildly liberal, such as San Francisco."
City leaders need to be proactive about what is going on downtown, citing the Jazz's complaints about outgrowing the Salt Palace. "To say the city doesn't care is like committing economic suicide," Davis said.