SALT LAKE CITY — The idea for a massive meeting hall was generated from a desire by Mormon leaders to accommodate more members at general conference, as expressed by President Gordon B. Hinckley on Easter morning in April 1996.
"I regret that many who wish to meet with us in the Tabernacle this morning are unable to get in," President Hinckley said. "My heart reaches out to those who wish to get in and could not be accommodated. About a year ago, I suggested to the Brethren that perhaps the time has come when we should study the feasibility of constructing another dedicated house of worship on a much larger scale that would accommodate three or four times the number who can be seated in this building."
Twenty years later, the spacious 21,000-seat LDS Conference Center has served The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints well. In addition to hosting general conference, the Conference Center — with the latest high-tech broadcasting equipment, water features and a rooftop garden — has become a place filled with religious artwork and a venue for stage productions, Christmas devotionals, concerts, birthday celebrations and many memorable moments.
"This is truly a magnificent building. I know of no other comparable structure built primarily as a hall of worship that is so large and that will seat so many. It is beautiful in its design, in its appointments, and in its wonderful utility. The interior is beautiful and wonderfully impressive," President Hinckley said in April 2000. "It will prove to be a great addition to this city. We hope that those not of our faith will come here, experience the ambiance of this beautiful place, and feel grateful for its presence."
In recognition of 20 years since President Hinckley's initial Conference Center announcement, here is a timeline of highlight events that have occurred in the great Latter-day Saint hall north of Temple Square.
1996 — President Hinckley strongly hints that a new assembly hall is in the works.
1997 — LDS Church breaks ground for the Conference Center. The event coincides with the 150th anniversary of the pioneers' arrival in the Salt Lake Valley, according to a Deseret News article.
2000 — General conference is held at the Conference Center in April, even though the building is not fully completed. President Hinckley leads the Hosanna Shout in October as he dedicates the enormous edifice.
2000 — The Mormon Tabernacle Choir starts a tradition of having a Christmas concert and other events featuring celebrity guests and artists. The long list includes Gladys Knight (2000); Roma Downey (2000); Angela Lansbury (2001); Walter Cronkite (2002); Frederica von Stade and Bryn Terfel (2003); Audra McDonald and Peter Graves (2004); Renee Fleming and Claire Bloom (2005); Sissel (2006); The King’s Singers (2007 and 2016); Brian Stokes Mitchell and Edward Herrmann (2008); Natalie Cole and David McCullough (2009); David Archuleta and Michael York (2010); Nathan Gunn and Jane Seymour (2011); Alfie Boe, Tom Brokaw and Gail Halversen (2012); Deborah Voigt, John Rhys-Davies, Lindsey Stirling and Nathan Pacheco (2013); Santino Fontana and the Sesame Street Muppets (2014); Tyler Simpson, Tamara Mumford, Martin Jarvis and Laura Osnes (2015); and Sonya Yoncheva and Rolando Villazon (2016).
2001 — President Hinckley introduces the Perpetual Education Fund in April general conference.
2002 — The production "Light of the World" is performed at the Conference Center in conjunction with the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympics.
2005 — President Hinckley's 95th birthday celebration is held at the Conference Center, with special guests Mike Wallace, Gladys Knight and Donny Osmond.
2008 — In October, President Thomas S. Monson announced the forthcoming construction of temples in Philadelphia and Rome among others. Three years later, in October 2011, he announces a temple for Paris.
2012 — A small fire in a mechanical room leads to water damage and minor flooding in the main auditorium on April 16, according to a KSL.com article.
2012 — Thousands fill the Conference Center on a Friday night in August for "Golden Days: A Celebration of Life," honoring President Monson on his 85th birthday. The event features special guests like former NFL quarterback Steve Young, broadcaster Jane Clayson Johnson and internationally known tenor Stanford Olsen. Hundreds of Boy Scouts also march with the American Flag at the celebration.
2012 — A few months later, in October, amid audible gasps, President Monson announces that the church is lowering the minimum-age requirement for those applying to serve full-time missions. For men, age eligibility changes from 19 to 18, and for women the minimum age changes from 21 to 19.
2013 — For the first time, the LDS Church broadcasts the priesthood session of general conference live on television and the internet, according to a Deseret News article.
2014 — In March, the church holds a general women’s meeting including girls 8 years and older that replaces the annual general Relief Society and general Young Women meetings. In September, the church announces that the general women’s meeting is now the first session of the semiannual general conference.
2015 — Following the deaths of three apostles — Elder L. Tom Perry, President Boyd K. Packer and Elder Richard G. Scott — three new members of the Quorum of the Twelve are called in October. Elders Ronald A. Rasband, Gary E. Stevenson and Dale G. Renlund become the church's 98th, 99th and 100th apostles to be called since the church was founded in 1830 and the quorum's creation in 1835, according to a Deseret News article.