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Rusty Isakson

Norm Nielson knew he'd have to battle traffic when he brought his wife, Ariel, to her first session of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Semiannual General Conference in Salt Lake.

The pair drove from Alberta, Canada. A seasoned conference-attendee, Norm left their car as far away from the Conference Center as they could walk.

"We just parked way up by the (Utah) state (Capitol) building and walked down," Nielson said. "It's a big hill, but it's not so bad."

The general consensus of conferencegoers and downtown patrons was that parking and finding places to eat wasn't too much trouble, it just took patience.

Annie Farisopoulos, a private in the United States Army Reserve and formerly of Watson, Calif., was baptized a member of the LDS Church five weeks prior to attending this year's October conference. She and Josiah Rudy, also a private in the reserves, came together and stood outside in the rain during the second session.

"Everywhere has been packed," Farisopoulos said. "But we've had no difficulty finding a place."

Brent Roberts, director of the LDS Church's headquarters facilities, said extensive planning occurred prior to conference in order to establish available spaces for people to park amid downtown construction and lane closures.

"We found about 7,000 parking stalls and gave them to priesthood leaders to distribute (with tickets)," Roberts said. "(For those who didn't get a parking pass) there is overflow and free parking in the Triad Center, at Regent Street and Eagle Gate Terrace."

But that wasn't the only place people were able to find parking, since free public parking on the street was also available.

Lonnie Pursifull, a Wilderness Bible Baptist from Duchesne protesting at the semi-annual conference, said he had no trouble finding free public parking.

"I've been preaching at conference for 14 years," Pursifull said. "I use public parking — no paying."

Tandy Taylor and her family came from Arizona. In years past, she said, they hadn't had trouble finding parking during the busy weekend. But trying to find a spot downtown Saturday afternoon so her family could make a reservation at The Roof restaurant proved fruitless as she and her kids, Lashea and C.J., stood in the rain waiting for her husband to come pick them up.

"We've never had difficulty before trying to find a place to eat — but that's because of conference," Taylor said.

Roberts estimated the Conference Center is filled with just over 20,000 people for each session and that between 25,000-40,000 people are moving between sessions during the day. That many people means a lot more cars downtown.

"We anticipate between 6,000 cars coming and going at any time downtown during conference," Roberts said.

Police officers trying to direct traffic along North Temple in front of the Conference Center tried to liven up rain-soaked conferencegoers as they waited to cross the street by having crowds shout happy birthday wishes and by telling jokes.

"We like to enjoy our job," Salt Lake Police Lt. Rusty Isakson said. "The streets here are not designed for the influx of people into the city; it's up to us to direct (them)."

Roberts advises conferencegoers to avoid State Street, North Temple and West Temple at all costs and to try and remain on the peripheral of Temple Square. Roberts also suggested carpooling and utilizing public transportation to get downtown.

"Come early," Roberts said. "There is no reason why people can't spend time on Temple Square. It will save a lot of pain and suffering if you do."

E-mail: nhale@desnews.com