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Laura Seitz, Deseret Morning News
Flanked by Spence Eccles, left, and Lane Beattie, Jack Gallivan signs the "Downtown Rising" charter.

The empty sidewalks and deserted malls of downtown Salt Lake City could soon be a thing of the past, as $1.5 billion in business investment is poured into the city's 10-block central business district over the next five years.

Creating a vision for those millions of dollars is what the Salt Lake Chamber hopes to accomplish in the coming months. On Wednesday, the chamber launched a business-led effort called "Downtown Rising," designed to map out the future of downtown Salt Lake City.

Chamber President Lane Beattie said the upcoming projects total more in a shorter period than any previous investment in the city's history.

"We anticipate we'll have another 10,000 people living downtown within the next 10 years," Beattie said. "Where are they going to shop? Where are they going to walk? What is the transit going to be like? There is no unified vision of what Salt Lake City is supposed to be."

By the end of July, the chamber hopes to release a preliminary plan outlining broad themes and principles important to the character of downtown, such as open space, environmental issues and cultural aspects. From July through October the public will have a chance to weigh in on the plan, patterned after a similar effort drafted by Salt Lake business and civic leaders in the 1960s.

Chuck Ware, principal of DesignWorkshop, a landscape architecture and urban design company with offices in Salt Lake City, said the city's vision should embrace the idea of an urban community as opposed to a place that people visit solely as a novelty for sports or entertainment.

"We're talking about sustainable urban living and everything that comes with housing — the goods and services — everything that it takes to live the village life," Ware said. "That's the only way a city can really endure long-term. The urban professional is a key piece of this. It's cool to live in most downtowns now. It's a little exotic."

Robert Lang, director of the Metropolitan Institute College of Architecture and Urban Studies, based in Virginia, said successful downtowns across the nation are now based on neighborhoods.

"The planning doctrine of the mid- to late-20th century was that they weren't neighborhoods," Lang said. "It was literally just office, retail and commercial. The national trend since the 1990s has been a much bigger inclusiveness of housing."

The idea of downtown Salt Lake emerging as a 24-hour city might today seem improbable. However, the same sentiment existed in Denver and Dallas 20 years ago, Lang said, and those cities have since created thriving districts.

"The prospects for here are good," Lang said. "They have been good in other places, and it has worked out."

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Still, little is known of the timing or plans of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for the redevelopment of its Crossroads Plaza and ZCMI Center malls. Relatively few people today live downtown, although the church has indicated it plans to create 900 housing units as part of its redevelopment.

Dale Bills, spokesman for the LDS Church, said Wednesday that church leaders are still considering how they will participate in the Downtown Rising planning process.

Natalie Gochnour, vice president of policy for the Salt Lake Chamber, said its work in defining a vision for the city is not about "master planning."

"We will leave the microscopes to someone else," Gochnour said. "Our aspiration is to use a telescope to bring the future closer. We don't want to do a master plan. We wouldn't be good at it."

E-mail: danderton@desnews.com