Salt Lake City was meant to be a simple utopia. When Brigham Young's pioneers arrived in 1847 on the bleak-but-broad valley floor at the base of the Wasatch Range to establish god's kingdom on earth, they laid out a lavish city around their temple and headquarters - a grid with 10-acre blocks separated by generous four-lane boulevards. Their new Zion flourished, rapidly attracting farmers, gold miners and businessmen. Under their combined efforts, the city blossomed into an urban metropolis, the capitol of the state and home of the state university. A century and a half later, with visionary plans for expansion, Utah's largest city is striving to maintain its reputation as a heaven on earth.
By the beginning of the 20th century, mining operations, downtown tanneries, flour and woolen mills and printing facilities were augmenting church operations and agriculture as the impetus for expansion. Mid-century, nearby military installations enhanced growth.
In December 1960, a group of prominent citizens banded together to promote a long-range master plan for downtown progress and growth. Their Second Century Plan saw the construction of Main Street Plaza, Salt Palace Convention Center, and the Federal building. It also spurred efforts to attract the 2002 Winter Olympics, a successful effort which brought retail development, a convention center, and improved highways along with an innovative TRAX light rail system.
The events of 9/11 and their aftermath exacerbated an anticipated lull in development following the Olympics, leading to a loss of 1,200 jobs in the central business district, but the tide is turning. Retail sales reached $2.1 billion in 2005. By the end of 2005, more than 600,000 square feet of new office space valued in excess of $150 million was under construction. Downtown housing has increased 80 percent in less than 10 years. Now, according to the Downtown Alliance's Report on Economic Benchmarks, the central business district is on the threshold of impressive growth with investment projected to exceed $1.5 billion in the next five years.
A centerpiece of the pre-Olympic buildup was the Gateway Center, a $500 million two-story outdoor mall with restaurants and shops, built on the site of an old industrial brown-field adjacent to the Delta Center sports amphitheater. These popular sites attract dollars to the downtown area, but have caused a shift of the city center toward the west, leaving the traditional urban core and its period buildings in decline. A new incarnation of the Second Century Plan - regional in scope - aims to address the shift by revitalizing the historic downtown while sustaining the city's role as the commercial and cultural center of the Wasatch Valley.
Utah's high migration rate, combined with the fact that it boasts the world's highest birthrate, adds 100,000 residents per year to a state where 1.7 million of its people are concentrated in the 15-mile-wide strip of the intermountain valley that stretches 100 miles from Provo to Ogden - a metropolitan area the size of Philadelphia. Centrally located in this thriving district, Salt Lake City's aim is to lead the entire alley by maximizing the potential of the capital city and its environs as an all-encompassing residential and commercial region.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints remains a force, holding half of the downtown retail and manufacturing area and a quarter of the rental units and office space. It is now in the midst of spending half a billion dollars to overhaul land adjacent to its Temple Square campus. Three department stores and 700 to 900 residential units will take shape during the remodeling of Crossroads Plaza and the ZCMI Center, a Mormon co-op and one of America's original department stores.
Following the success of the city's Downtown Alliance Live It Up Downtown promotional programs and activities at its new state-of-theart, 240,000-square-foot public library, plans are developing fo r an expanded downtown cultural and entertainment complex. Centered around renovation of the historic Utah Theater, this cultural area would encompass performance venues, a children's museum and science center.
Travelers are discovering that the region is more than just a desert, according to Mark Bennett of the local convention and visitors' bureau. Tourism is growing as visitors flock to the state capital's restaurants, LDS Temple Square, museums and arts events - all within 10 minutes of a major airport.