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The Sorenson Unity Center was proposed as a compromise when Salt Lake City and the LDS Church battled over downtown's Main Street Plaza in 2002. The city agreed to give up its public-access easement over the church's plaza. In exchange, the church donated 2.17 acres for the west-side community center, and the Alliance for Unity raised $4 million. James Sorenson gave $500,000 and 2.37 acres. Sorenson and the alliance later gave another $200,000 each, and Sorenson bought two homes and donated the land to the city to complete the campus.

The long-awaited Sorenson Unity Center will open next March - a little more than a year later than initially planned and with a bigger budget than when the community center was announced in 2002.

The center - being built out of the Main Street Plaza controversy - will include a health and fitness center, three classrooms for adult education, a performing arts venue, dental services for the homeless and a drop-in day-care center. At 23,361 square feet, the proposed center is 4,900 square feet smaller than initially planned, according to paperwork provided to the Salt Lake City Council, which will discuss the center Thursday night.

The Sorenson Unity Center - named for philanthropist James Sorenson and the Alliance for Unity, which donated money and land for the project - will be built next to the existing Sorenson Multi-Cultural Center. The area encompassing the two buildings - on California Avenue (1330 South) between 800 West and 900 West - will be known as the Sorenson Multi-Cultural Unity Campus.

Mike Harman conceded the Sorenson Unity construction delays are a "little frustrating," but he said residents care more about a separate and as-yet-unfunded project that would expand the Sorenson Multi-Cultural Center by 43,000 square feet with a leisure pool and a larger health and fitness facility than the one planned for the Sorenson Unity Center.

"The Unity Center's kind of a sideshow kind of thing," said Harman, president of the Poplar Grove Community Council, a neighborhood near the proposed center. "What they really want is the health-and-fitness piece."

Salt Lake City has applied for $6.8 million in Zoo, Arts and Parks taxes for the fitness expansion. The County Council will choose ZAP projects later this spring. If the money is approved, the city would convert the fitness portion of the Sorenson Unity Center into something else.

The new community center was supposed to cost $4.5 million and be open in December 2005. Construction costs have risen, forcing the city to redesign the project, which accounts for some of the delay. The new tab is almost $5 million, all covered by donations.

While taxpayers initially were told they wouldn't have to subsidize the center, they will have to now because rental fees aren't expected to pay all the operating costs. The taxpayer tab could run $208,000 a year.