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Nearly six years after Salt Lake City and the LDS Church salved a splintered community with a land-for-peace deal in the Main Street Plaza dispute, Glendale's $6 million Sorenson Unity Center - the delivery in that détente - opens its doors today.

"It's been a long time coming," said director Nichol Bourdeaux. "I'm getting excited for the community to see the building and know it's theirs to use."

After a series of "soft openings" this spring - and delays to secure all the land - the 23,000-square-foot unity center has completed its diverse array of new programs and facilities.

Just west of the Sorenson Multi-Cultural Center, the capital's newest amenity - at 1383 S. 900 West - boasts everything from a state-of-the-art fitness center, sprawling performance space and youth programs to college classes and a dental clinic for the poor.

Former Mayor Rocky Anderson, who took the lead in the 2002 land swap, says the unity center will be a tremendous addition to the city.

"This is the culmination of a very broad public process where people were surveyed about what they would like included," Anderson said. "Looking back on it, pulling the funding together seems like a minor miracle."

In return for extinguishing the easement on Main between North Temple and South Temple (allowing the LDS Church to control speech and behavior on the plaza), the city received from the church 2.1 acres on the Glendale corner, notes Kay Christensen, the city's policy analyst who helped steer the center.

"We were giving up something," she said, "and they were giving something back."

As part of the deal, the Alliance for Unity (founded by Anderson and Jon Huntsman Sr.) agreed to kick in $4 million in private money.

Christensen says every function residents requested in the 2003 meetings has come to fruition at the center.

"It's been very well-received in the community," she said.

But Lee Siegel, a former plaintiff in an unsuccessful American Civil Liberties Union suit against the land-for-peace plaza deal, is less enthusiastic.

"I still believe free speech was sold out on Main Street, Salt Lake City," he said, "And I do not feel any sense of unity with the local theocracy."

Still, for kids and harried parents, the unity center could prove popular.

A child care center - for $1 an hour - will launch this summer for parents using the facility. There is a two-hour limit.

A theater space, as well as a reception and gallery area, will be available for public rental, including weddings. And Salt Lake Community College will offer its skills center and classes on career development.

Mayor Ralph Becker notes it will be a boon for the west side.

"The mayor wishes to thank the public and private partners that made the center a reality," spokeswoman Helen Langan said. "He's very excited because it will make such a great amenity for the Glendale neighborhood, in particular, and the entire city of Salt Lake."

Bourdeaux says there will be a "big push" to market the fee-based center despite the city's budget crunch.

Inside Sorenson Unity Center

The center includes:

* A health-and-fitness center

* A dental clinic for the poor

* A performance space for recitals, readings and meetings

* A computer lab

* A reception area and gallery that can be rented

* A drop-in care center for parents using the center

* Space for mental-health, financial and legal counseling

* A Salt Lake Community College skills center

The land-for-peace deal

The Sorenson Unity Center is the result of a land-for-peace compromise in the battle over downtown's Main Street Plaza.

Salt Lake City agreed in 2002 to surrender its public-access easement on the plaza, giving the LDS Church control of speech on the property. In return, the church donated more than two acres for a west-side community center.

The Alliance for Unity raised $4 million for the Glendale center, and James Sorenson, the billionaire philanthropist who died earlier this year, gave $500,000 and two additional acres. The alliance later kicked in another $200,000. Sorenson added another $300,000, bought two homes, and donated the land to the city to complete the campus. The city also received $2 million in federal new-market tax credits - roughly half for construction and half for operation and maintenance.

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