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Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
David Cruz, 17, of Salt Lake City, checks out the weight room during the grand opening of the Sorenson Unity Center Thursday.

Unity has been achieved.

The Sorenson Unity Center officially opened its doors Thursday evening with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and open house at the Glendale community center at 1383 S. 900 West.

Political, religious and business leaders joined west-side residents to celebrate the 26,000-square-foot community center — an idea born out of controversy and made real through community partnerships and generous donations.

"The Sorenson Unity Center is a place meant to enhance the lives of our residents, offering participation in arts, education and community programs," said Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, who hosted the ceremony. "The mission of the center is to provide community resources and a gathering place where all cultures can be celebrated and welcome."

Named after the late James LeVoy Sorenson, the Unity Center houses facilities and services catered to the community's requests and needs — including a health and fitness center, educational programs, computer labs and a free dental clinic for low-income people.

Sorenson, a renowned philanthropist and successful entrepreneur, real estate magnate and inventor of medical devices, died of cancer Jan. 20. Members of the Sorenson family were honored Thursday with dedicatory plaque and received a standing ovation at the ceremony.

"The James LeVoy Sorenson family has been instrumental in providing our neighborhoods with the needed resources and facilities to enrich the lives of our residents throughout the city," Becker said.

Sorenson donated 3.3 acres of land and $500,000 to the $6.5 million project. The Alliance for Unity raised $4.2 million, and another $2 million came from U.S. Bank using New Market Tax Credits — a federal program that gives tax credits to projects in low-income urban or rural areas.

"There are so many people in our community that have been a part of this," said Sorenson's son, James. "The naming of this, the Unity Center, is so appropriate."

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also partnered in the project, contributing 2.2 acres of property as part of a land-swap agreement tied to the Main Street Plaza controversy.

On Dec. 13, 2002, then-Mayor Rocky Anderson came up with an idea to give up Salt Lake City's easement on the Main Street Plaza in exchange for land for a west-side community center.

All parties bought into the plan, bringing to a close a controversial chapter in Salt Lake City's history that saw the city divided on religious lines.

"This was a great example of people stepping up when they were asked to help us solve a very difficult problem that we had in the community, and also embrace very positive opportunities for vast improvement in the quality of life for generations in our city," Anderson said.

Ron Humphries, representing the LDS Church, praised the collaborative efforts that created "a place where families, neighbors, people from all walks of life can enjoy the benefits."

Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve, who also attended the ceremony, was credited by Anderson as helping put together the deal.

Also recognized at the event were Ralph Montgomery, whose Salt Lake Donated Dental Services clinic at the center offers free dental service to low-income people; and Cynthia Bioteau, president of Salt Lake Community College.

SLCC is providing career counseling, English as a second language classes, basic adult education classes, and developmental math and English courses at the center.

"People can come here at any time of day, at any time of the semester, at any time of the calendar year and access education," Bioteau said. "We offer access to wherever you are in life and help you get to wherever you want to go."


E-mail: jpage@desnews.com