Kathleen Hill hadn't paid much attention to plans for City Creek Center until a little more than a year ago when she saw a model of the LDS Church's proposed two-block downtown development at City Hall.
"I was horrified," Hill said. "I couldn't believe there was even consideration of putting a skybridge over Main Street."
Since then, she has been an active participant in the project's public process, speaking out against the proposed pedestrian walkway over Main Street to link the second levels of retail of the planned outdoor mall.
Hill calls skybridges "an outdated an inferior design," and she says constructing one over Main Street would weaken the sense of community on which Salt Lake City was built.
"In honoring (Salt Lake City's pioneer) heritage and tradition, it's important in our planning and development to really look closely and consider the choices we make in our stewardship with the land," she said.
Hill, a graduate student at the University of Utah, is completing a master's degree in urban planning and is preparing to begin a Ph.D program. For nearly a year she researched skybridges in urban settings and compiled her findings in a 43-page report titled "Preserving Life of the Street."
"I felt like someone needed to speak up and say, 'This isn't the right concept for our Main Street,"' she said. "Someone needed to gather a body of information to say, 'This is a bad move. Let's come up with another option."'
Hill cites several sources supporting her conclusion that skybridges hinder street-level pedestrian activity and promote segregation and separation. "Planning and design professionals are all standing up and saying that skybridges don't work in this setting," she said.
Taubman Centers Inc., The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' development partner for City Creek Center, contends the skybridge is vital to the project's success.
Ron Loch, Taubman's vice president over planning and design, said two levels of retail are necessary to make City Creek Center a regional draw that can "survive, thrive and compete with suburban retail centers."
Linking the second levels of retail centers will allow the two blocks to work together as one to accommodate the 10 million people City Creek Center is expected to draw annually, Loch said.
"That's the primary reason (the skybridge) is required," he said. "It's absolutely essential."
The need for a second-level pedestrian walkway remains a point of contention for skybridge critics and at least one member of the Salt Lake City Council, which will decide the skybridge's fate next week.
Luke Garrott, the first-year councilman representing District 4, which includes downtown, said he "highly doubts" that the financial viability of the project depends on the skybridge.
"I think there are a lot of other factors that go into the success and failure of a project," Garrott said.
That said, the City Council members are forced take at face value developers' claims that second-level retail must have a pedestrian connector and that shoppers won't tolerate anything other than a closed bridge, he said.
That causes Garrott some "disquietude," he said, because those "imperatives" are created and solely judged by the developers.
Other council members also have concerns about the skybridge that they say need to be resolved before deciding April 8 whether to sell or lease air rights above Main Street.
In April 2007, the City Council approved amendments to the city's master plan to allow for skybridges in certain circumstances.
In order to meet those requirements, the developer must show that all other reasonable alternatives for a street-level crossing were evaluated and found not to be feasible due to safety or other concerns; the proposed development must contribute to a vibrant streetscape; negative impact to view corridors must be minimized; and the project must enhance a primary pedestrian focus.
City Creek Reserve Inc., a development arm of the LDS Church, and other project partners will meet with the City Council in a work session today to address those lingering concerns. Loch said he believes the development now meets that criteria, in part due to a public process that helped shape the project.
"We've put every ounce of our energy into making this the very best project you could possibly build and develop in downtown Salt Lake City," he said. "We are very, very confident we'll get this approval."
Soren Simonsen, the lone member of the council to vote against amending the master plan a year ago, said he wants to make sure all alternatives to the skybridge were explored.
The developers have listed alternatives and the reasons they were dismissed, "but we haven't seen anything that demonstrated how thoroughly they've been evaluated," Simonsen said.
"Until I've seen evidence that satisfies they've really looked at it and addressed it, it would be difficult for me to be supportive," he said.
That's also one of Hill's complaints. "They haven't shown there is no other option," she said.
Hill has sent copies of her report to members of the City Council, along with a letter encouraging them to read it before making a decision. She's also planning to speak tonight at a public hearing on the skybridge."A skybridge does not belong across our Main Street," she said. "I don't care who the developer is, and I don't care what they say. The research says that skybridges in this context don't work."
Public hearing tonight
The Salt Lake City Council will hold a public hearing about the City Creek Center skybridge during a meeting at 7 tonight in Room 315 of the City-County Building, 451 S. State.
The City Council plans to make a decision April 8 on whether to convey air rights over Main Street to allow construction of the skybridge.City Creek Center is a $1.5 billion development of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The development will bring a mix of residential, retail and office space downtown.