Church reassures council on SLC's downtown makeover

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Its downtown Salt Lake City redevelopment plans are taking longer than expected and will take a lot more money, but the LDS Church remains committed to rebuilding two major blocks on Main Street.

The complicated negotiations to overhaul Crossroads Plaza and ZCMI Center malls for retail and housing, and the multiple millions of dollars it will take, could have discouraged "someone of lesser spirit," LDS Church Presiding Bishop H. David Burton said Tuesday. Not the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose worldwide headquarters is downtown.

"Our commitment is there and will continue to be there," he told the City Council in a special fact-finding hearing on downtown. He pledged the 20-acre redevelopment will be a "tremendous community asset" and a "good neighbor of Temple Square and other sacred places for us in the city."

Burton offered few details, though he did reveal the church hasn't nailed down Nordstrom's involvement in the new project.

He told the council he is "hopeful and optimistic" Nordstrom will be there on opening day. "There is, of course, a lot of time between today and when that takes place. Nordstrom seems to have a great deal of interest. We hope it all comes together."

Later, he cautioned reporters: "Don't read anything negative into that. We're very, very positive." He said the church "desperately wants Nordstrom to be a part of whatever we do."

Nordstrom couldn't be reached late Tuesday. But last week, spokeswoman Brooke White said the retailer, located in Crossroads, was on track to open a new store within the development in 2009. She also stressed the store would remain open during construction.

In 2004, Nordstrom announced it had signed a letter of intent to remain at Crossroads during reconstruction. At that time, a new store was planned for 2007.

Mayor Rocky Anderson, who listened to Burton's briefing, said that with the church's plans and all the housing projects being built downtown, "This will continue to be an excellent market for Nordstrom and other major department stores."

Burton didn't say when construction would take place. Nor did he hand out a design, noting people are working "feverishly" on it.

He said it includes ways to break up the two malls' large blocks with pedestrian corridors. And it includes a sky bridge across Main Street - something the city now forbids because it blocks views from downtown - because retailers want it.

Burton also underscored the complexity of the undertaking, calling it "tremendously difficult": The church has had to negotiate with 250 entities on the 20 acres. He said most issues have been resolved. He described a "small army" of professionals working on real estate, design and architecture.

Other highlights:

* The church initially expected to spend $500 million on redevelopment. Burton said the amount is now "quite a bit north" as materials have become more expensive and the church has decided to demolish the Key Bank tower, an office building on the Crossroads block. Some estimates put the cost at $1 billion.

* The church is planning to build office space.

* LDS Business College will relocate to the church-owned Triad Center in September with up to 1,500 students. Female students will be housed in one-third of the church's Plaza Hotel at Temple Square, 122 W. South Temple. The rest of the rooms will remain a hotel. The church may add more student housing at a motel it owns west of its Conference Center. The Triad Center will also house a Brigham Young University satellite, and Burton said additional educational buildings could be built on the Triad block or on the block to the east, now a parking lot that housed the Medals Plaza during the Olympics.

* The church remains committed to building condos or apartments on the mall blocks, with Burton saying downtown needs activity 24-7. The number of units - once placed at 900 - is up in the air.

* Burton said he couldn't speak for the church, but he personally likes the idea of creating an arts district on the block south of Crossroads.

With the time that has elapsed since the church announced plans to redevelop the malls - it's been 30 months - the public may have become discouraged, said City Councilman Eric Jergensen. So he was glad to hear the church's "unequivocal commitment to making this work. . . . We'll all look forward to the time there is a [concrete] proposal."

As to when that will happen: "That's a shot in the dark."