A Denver urban planner says to revitalize downtown, Salt Lake residents need to take up Nancy Reagan's battle cry and "Just say `No.' "
-Don't tear up the historic housing that forms a cocoon around downtown, urged Thomas A. Gougeon.-Don't pull activities away from downtown, "even if it seems like a good idea at the time," he said, referring to the Triad Center.
-Don't go to the trouble of tearing out a sky bridge system, as Denver is now doing, by not building it in the first place.
-And don't forget to involve more people in determining the city's future. "It's messier. It takes longer, and in the end, it's the only way to get things done.
"It's OK to be a Western city," said Gougeon, an administrative assistant to the mayor of Denver.
He offered his pearls of advice as one of a team of volunteer urban experts who have taken an extensive look at downtown Salt Lake City's problems. Gougeon was a member of the city's Regional/Urban Design Assistance Team.
"You have a lot to build on in Salt Lake City. You've got tons of advantages that other cities don't have," said David Markley, a transportation planner from Redmond, Wash.
The urban planners unveiled an impressive outline Monday for Salt Lake's future, detailing a city graced with thriving retail, cultural, financial and government districts. The districts are all anchored to the north by the LDS Church properties, crowned by the world-famous Temple Square, and to the south by a new governmental center and public plaza, near the City-County Building.
Mayor Palmer DePaulis hailed the team's ideas, saying he appreciated its emphasis on the process of future-building. He said the planners expressed more optimism about the city's future than many natives do.
"It's the perception that we need to deal with. Reality and perceptions are not the same thing in this city," DePaulis said.
Many of the ideas expressed by team members seconded the issues identified in DePaulis' long-range planning effort, the Salt Lake Tomorrow program, undertaken last year.
The R/UDAT team, a tool of the American Institute of Architects, comes into town for a weekend and forms a sort of an urban planning think tank, then leaves behind a blueprint of planning suggestions.
Eight experts flew into Salt Lake City Thursday, conducted whirlwind research through tours and extensive meetings with community players and then presented their ideas in a slide show and 68-page planning blueprint.
The effort cost about $30,000 in actual cash and in-kind services, and the funds have to be donated from a variety of businesses and organizations to show community support for the R/UDAT study. Salt Lake organizers limited individual contributions to $1,000.
The team was asked to specifically focus on Block 57, the mostly vacant block that has plagued city officials as a symbol of downtown's economic malise.
But in their report, the team said Block 57 is an important downtown block, but not the key block.
More importantly, downtown's players - including LDS Church representatives, city officials, retail merchants and the business community - must determine a single vision and strategy for what the downtown will be and move forward together.
Second, the city needs to facilitate the construction of a larger arena at the Salt Palace - immediately. And the city needs to work with the state to locate a government/judicial complex as a south anchor to the downtown district.
Other ideas included building medians in the middle of State Sreet to break up an asphalt jungle; re-establishing Main Street as "the" retail street with specialty shops to the south; using urban design to soften uninviting wall and building expanses; and creating landscaped middle-of-the-block penetration routes to encourage pedestrian traffic.
Salt Lakers have an incredibly spectacular environment, and the city needs to protect its vistas and mark its entrances, the planners say.
Contrary to popular belief, too much valuable downtown land is utilized for ugly parking lots, Markley said. More parking lots need to be built underground, and commuters need to get into the mass transit habit.