April 1, 2012

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A New City

Downtown Belongs to All of Us

Natalie Gochnour

April 1, 2012

Several years ago I was sitting in the summer humidity of Washington, D.C. on an old, sturdy park bench in the National Mall talking to my future boss Lane Beattie. He asked if I would be interested in leaving my job in Washington so I could help the Utah business community reinvigorate downtown Salt Lake City. Something big was happening, and Lane invited me to be part of it. 

So you can imagine my enthusiasm as I stood at the opening of City Creek Center last month as hundreds of people gathered to celebrate the urban wonder that is the nation’s newest and only mixed-use shopping center of significant size to open this year. A musical group sang the old Petula Clark song in a remarkable anthem to the moment: When you’re alone and life is making you lonely, you can always go – DOWNTOWN.

For me, last month’s ribbon cutting crystallized the vision, hard work, talent and generosity of a generation of Utahns. It was a grand community expression of our affection for our capital city. Downtown Salt Lake City belongs to all of us and the opening of City Creek Center was a milestone of hefty proportions.

In honor of this Downtown Rising high point I thought I would share with Utah Business readers a few thoughts of mine along the way:

Good will – Louis Zunguze is not a person whom many will know, but he played a pivotal role at the start of City Creek Center. He served as Mayor Rocky Anderson’s director of community development and oversaw much of the early permitting required for the development. There were hundreds of details that needed to be worked out, but none more challenging than the pedestrian bridge over Main Street. I remember Louis saying to me, “With people of good will, anything is possible.” Louis deployed this optimistic mantra as he successfully negotiated the process, design and ultimate implementation of a critical component of the development. We need more Louis Zunguzes in the world.

H. David Burton – If Gordon B. Hinckley was the visionary, the presiding bishop of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was the vision maker. Time after time, Bishop Burton met with all interested parties to create the greatest outcome for the greatest good for the greater community. Day after day he proceeded, as he liked to say, with “vigor and optimism.” Bishop Burton, from a grateful community of all faiths, thank you.

Power of place – The well-known author and new urbanist James Howard Kunstler said, “It is within our power to create places worthy of our affection.” This sentiment served as a guiding influence for Downtown Rising. Utahns had become complacent about downtown. TRAX construction on Main Street took too long and harmed commerce along the way. The reconstruction of I-15 in Salt Lake County took a toll on commerce, as well. Boarded up buildings on Main Street and little life on the street after dark became visual takeaways of a city losing its way.

The Salt Lake region was becoming an urban donut with activity centers all around, but too little vibrancy in the core. Donuts may taste good, but as a metaphor they make awful regions and hinder long-term prosperity. Regions thrive with a strong central city. That’s why Bill Hudnut, a senior resident fellow of the Urban Land Institute said, “You can’t be a suburb to nothing.” New England has Boston, the Great Lakes have Chicago, the South has Atlanta, the Northwest has Seattle and the Intermountain West has Salt Lake City. We must enlist ourselves in creating and perpetuating what Mayor Becker calls a “Great American City.”

Community stewards – During my initial outreach for Downtown Rising, Jack Gallivan told me that Obert C. Tanner had given him a signed blank check to pay for the gold leafing in Abravanel Hall. Corporate citizenship like this continues today. Spence Eccles was the first person to raise his hand in an initial fundraising meeting for Downtown Rising. Others followed. Curtis Bennett with O.C. Tanner made an unsolicited contribution because his company believed in the cause. Greg Miller continued his father’s support even though Greg was not part of the initial discussions. Dell Loy Hansen made several contributions to the effort, as did Tom Guinney, the co-owner of Gastronomy restaurants.  And Scott Anderson, Roger Boyer, Bruce Bingham, Vasilios Priskos, Clint Ensign, Chris Redgrave, Mark Willes and Dean Singleton, among others, have all been champions of the cause.

City Creek Center is a huge milestone. In the spirit of good will, a great capital city and community stewardship, let’s hope we have many more milestones to come.

Natalie Gochnour is the chief economist at the Salt Lake Chamber.

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