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Pyle: Fixing up the Temple's front porch

Published March 23, 2012 5:40 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

As a non-native, non-LDS, itinerant hack writer, now more than a year into his second tour of duty in Salt Lake City, I've heard all the horror stories about living among Mormons.

Heard, but not experienced.

Neither of my sons has ever come home in tears because some neighbor kid wasn't allowed to play with him. I've probably had fewer elders knock on my door here than I did in New York, and they've all been nothing but polite.

There's no shortage of coffee spots. OK, the liquor laws here are pretty goofy. But I don't drink that much. And I grew up in Kansas, where the attorney general once boarded an Amtrak train to shut down the club car and warned the airlines flying overhead that he had his eye on their tiny, overpriced bottles of booze, too.

Some people see the LDS religion as silly. A great many of them, especially those cruel enough to stand on street corners during big church events, holding nasty signs, belong to another faith that still other people see as just as silly. It feels like arguing over whether Superman could beat up Captain America.

But one thing I do tell friends from away. These birds know how to build a city. Wide boulevards. Large blocks. Some beautiful buildings. And, after a dubious flirtation with a couple of downtown malls that looked like a fleet of Borg cubes on the doorstep of the church's Temple Square, a sparkling new downtown shopping center that had the people, LDS and non, packed in the other day.

I'm on the Ain't City Creek Center Grand bandwagon because folks around here, especially those who aren't in with the Dominant Culture, should be happy for one thing. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is many things. But it never has been, and never will be, the deadliest creature alive for urban areas.

It is not an absentee landlord.

Spend a little time in Western New York State, as I did, and you will see why that matters.

The rotted-out core of downtown Buffalo is blamed on many things: High taxes, featherbedded unions, white flight, urban renewal and a light rail system that pushed the cars off of Main Street. But looking from block to block, one thing becomes clear: Buildings and blocks owned by locals are doing OK, sometimes thriving. Buildings and blocks owned by out-of-towners, held in speculative trusts by folks who live in New York City, have sat empty and deteriorating for decades.

It's even worse up the Thruway, in the city of Niagara Falls, where one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World should be a monumental economic engine. But giant hunks of downtown, within walking distance of the falls, have been in a developmental deep freeze for years, held there by out-of-towners who don't care, or won't make a move without giant taxpayer subsidies. Even the opening of a huge casino and hotel — owned by the local Seneca Nation — has engendered little in the way of spin-off development.

So most of City Creek will be closed on Sundays. So there will be little in the way of alcohol. So there's no general interest bookstore or newsstand. (That's the fault of the Internet, not the landlords.) And so there is a principled argument to be made that religious institutions should only build hospitals, orphanages and schools, never Macy's, Nordstrom and Tiffany.

But LDS leaders, partnered with the Taubman outfit that builds high-end centers all over the place, have, without public subsidies, brought life to the core of their headquarters city six days of every week. If, on the seventh day, they want to rest, we can live with it.

George Pyle, a Tribune editorial writer, is actually more at home in truck stop cafes.




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