LDS decision on SLC project seen as sign of tolerance
The LDS Church has opened the door to alcohol sales at its downtown mall project. But forget Sunday shopping.
In an unexpected move for a church that eschews alcohol, LDS Church spokesman Dale Bills said Friday restaurants that will open as part of the redevelopment of Crossroads Plaza and ZCMI Center malls will be allowed to seek liquor licenses.
For residents who may have feared the church was on its way to “Vaticanize” downtown by buying up property like the malls, the alcohol decision is a show of tolerance, say observers.
It’s also an economic decision: Vibrant downtowns need nightlife.
“It’s a real show of their support to make downtown a vibrant, livable, attractive city,” said Scott Beck, president and CEO of the Salt Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“They understand those things [alcohol] are important to people, certainly not important to them. It shows a lot of tolerance.”
The church says it wants to create a vibrant, 24-7 environment in its new project, which will include retail – including Meier & Frank recast as Macy’s and Nordstrom – existing offices and up to 900 units of housing.
The value of the redevelopment – it involves a national mall developer and possibly a separate housing developer – is expected to reach $1 billion and is considered Salt Lake City’s single-largest development. It’s also considered one of the nation’s largest downtown redevelopment projects.
Because the church preaches against liquor consumption, it is distancing itself from the future restaurant operations. The church will sell land for the restaurants to an outside developer.
And there won’t be any private clubs or bars opening on the blocks.
“A limited number of high-quality restaurant tenants who will operate on land not owned by the church may apply for licenses to serve alcoholic beverages in accordance with existing state regulations,” Bills told The Salt Lake Tribune.
The church encourages members to avoid commercial activities on Sundays. And while Crossroads is now open that day – ZCMI Center always is closed Sundays – retail in the new project will be closed Sundays, Bills said, confirming earlier newspaper reports.
Friday was the first time the church has acknowledged the Sunday and alcohol arrangements. The announcement came first during an interview Mayor Rocky Anderson conducted with Bills and church architect Bill Williams on KCPW’s “Midday Metro” radio program.
When Bills said it was the church’s “goal” to allow restaurants to serve wine, Anderson responded: “That’s going to be good news for a lot of people in this community.”
Indeed. Last year, Anderson said non-Mormons fear downtown may become an LDS version of Vatican City. He has urged the church to make the project inclusive.
The mayor downplayed the Sunday closure on the radio program, noting there will be round-the-clock activity because of the housing.
The new project is “going to bring so much excitement, so much vibrancy, so many more residents living in the downtown area,” the mayor said. “Even if there’s a certain area of retail that’s not going to be open, there’s going to be plenty else happening in the downtown area very largely because of this project.”
Salt Lake City Councilwoman Nancy Saxton and Beck say they wish the malls would be open Sunday.
“If I were a tourist in town, or someone that worships on Saturday, then Sunday would be a good day to go shopping,” Saxton said. “For the general genre here in Utah, Sundays are not big shopping days. That’s [the church’s] call. In some ways, they’ve struck a good balance.”
Beck said Sunday closures won’t be a big deal to conventioneers. Sundays are usually dead in Salt Lake City, as well as other midsize cities, he noted. Plus, four blocks west, The Gateway is open seven days a week.
“I’d love it to be open on Sunday. [But] I understand there are other options downtown,” Beck said.
No new design details were revealed Friday, though architect Williams said on KCPW that the project will be environmentally friendly. Anderson had encouraged the church to follow green-building design standards.
“Building a sustainable environment is key to our concerns because we build for the future. We don’t build for the short term,” Williams said.
He also reconfirmed the malls would remain enclosed, but that shoppers will be able to see the sky, surrounding buildings and “as much daylight as humanly possible. We’d like to open it up so it feels like streets.”
Anderson, who has seen preliminary designs, compared the look to the new Main Library, which has a glass wall.
The church didn’t answer if the design would include a sky bridge across Main Street to link the two malls.
Such an element is not allowed in the downtown master plan because it would block views of the mountains. And some urban areas across the country that have them are trying to get rid of them.
“A design priority for the project is to make it pedestrian-friendly, to open up the blocks and encourage on-street activity,” Bills told The Tribune. The church’s Michigan-based mall developer, Taubman Centers Inc., “is looking at a number of options to ensure that people can move easily through and around the project.”
The housing is a critical component. Williams said the units will be phased in. He doesn’t want to flood the market, and anticipates starting with “several hundred” units in the first phase.
Downtown housing is hot – new projects are filling up with reservations before ground has been broken.
“I don’t think you can build it fast enough,” the mayor told Williams.
Anderson also said he couldn’t imagine a “better spot for anybody to live” than in the proposed housing on the Crossroads block, which will have views of Temple Square and the mountains.