Imagine small markets, beer gardens and art galleries in what are now grungy alleyways and half-empty parking lots within the confines of Salt Lake City's huge blocks.
Those are some ideas that came from more than 200 architects and designers from 48 countries who participated in the "SixtyNine Seventy" project. The competition, called "The Spaces Between" asked designers to create plans for the interiors of blocks 69 and 70, which are between West Temple and State Street from 100 South to 200 South.
Early Mormons laid out the 660-foot-long blocks and wide streets to accommodate wagons drawn by oxen and horse teams. But planners today lament that Salt Lake City's layout does not lend itself well to pedestrians and therefore saps synergy usually created by shops, restaurants and activities within smaller-scale urban landscapes.
Mayor Ralph Becker envisions a future in which blocks 69 and 70 function as the cultural center of Salt Lake City. The area encompasses both the Capitol Theatre and Utah Theater and also will be home to the Utah Performing Arts Center, scheduled to open in 2016.
"What the SixtyNine Seventy project does is get creative energy from people all over the world to give ideas on how to make this the energetic core of Salt Lake City," the mayor said.
But those blocks also contain some run-down buildings and parking garages, as well as unsightly parking lots, according to filmmaker Trent Harris, whose video is attached to the competition's website at sixtynineseventy.com.
He described 69 and 70 as "two blocks in the heart of the city that are a mess."
According to Harris, the competition seeks to "create spaces that are really cool, where people would want to hang out."
Two competition winners announced last week were selected by a jury. A third, the People's Choice Award, was chosen by online voting. Each won $40,000.
"The work of the finalists in the SixtyNine Seventy competition reflects some truly innovative and inspired visioning for how to activate downtown public spaces," Becker said. "I'm excited to see these ideas evolve along with the myriad of public and private projects that are continuing to enrich and invigorate our central business district."
One of the jury awards went to the Salt Lake City design team Urban Art Lab, composed of Joerg Ruegemer, Charlotte Greub, Brad Brinton and Jeremy Bringard.
Their plan sought to bring people out of cars and off sidewalks into the blocks' interior, where they would find food markets, a beer garden and areas where local artists could exhibit their works. Their design also incorporated rooftop gardens and children's play areas.
The second jury award went to the Philadelphia-based Square One Studios. That plan sought to catalyze a new performing arts district, where alleyways, parking lots and garages would become public galleries.
And the People's Choice Award was captured by PKMN Architectures of Madrid with an entry called "Olympic Games to Urban Games." It aimed to empower all residents to make the block interiors into community spaces dedicated to education and human interaction.
City Councilman Stan Penfold, who also is the chairman of Redevelopment Agency, said the ideas put forth by competitors would give Salt Lake City planners new insights into energizing downtown. The various proposals also would inform city officials as they begin to rewrite the Downtown Master Plan, he said.
Opening up the interiors of Salt Lake City's large blocks with walkways that connect block to block would create a greater sense of place, said Jason Mathis, executive director of the Downtown Alliance, a business organization.
"This is the next step," he said, "to engage people in what the future of downtown should be."