Skybridge is Causing a Divide
February 14th, 2008
The skybridge component of the City City Creek Center " critical to the success of the project? " Or a means to monopolize the buying public?
Salt Lake City, UT--The City Creek Center with a $1.5 billion dollar budget is touted as the largest commercial retail development ever in Utah. Past projects have all come from private development companies. However, this is different in that its being solely financed by the L.D.S Church. Despite some accusations that the L.D.S Church is building their own "Vatican City" in downtown Salt Lake City, residents are very pleased to see the church investing such a huge sum to help revitalize downtown Salt Lake City. The project without doubt will function to bring life back to Main Street and enhance the tourist destination of Temple Square. However, there is one part of the project that has many critics calling foul: a private skybridge over public Main Street.
Kathleen J. Hill is working on a PhD in Urban Planning and Development at the University of Utah. Along with her studies Hill has prepared a 50-page-report about how downtown skybridges in other cities, built to provide convienience, have resulted in segregating communities. The common problem Hill describes is that by allowing pedestrians to bypass the streets, motorists become less cautious, the streets below become more dangerous. Consequently, existing street retailers end up getting less business. Life on the street declines and the city suffers as a whole.
Hill describes how the proposed mall development has neglected the greater community interests. "Development in downtown SLC needs to be about community building. This is a diverse city, home to a religious organization with a worldwide membership. Taubman is mall developer, not a city or community builder. Where [Taubman Company] really makes their money is on the smaller spots that they lease out. And they can charge premium rates on the second level if there is a bridge. But that's what troubles me. Main Street belongs to everyone, it belongs to the city and it belongs to the people. Skybridges may work in some places, but a skybridge does not belong over our Main Street," says Hill.
Hill has shown her skybridge report to many major leaders in downtown Salt Lake City including John Huntsman Sr. and former Mayor Rocky Anderson. Anderson is one of the most outspoken critics of the bridge. "The bridge is going to be used to funnel people across the mall so they can come from the parking lot, do their shopping and go home without ever even touching Main Street. Its a classic suburban style mall design," says Anderson.
Taubman Company has developed malls all over the country and has a proven track record for developing some of the most profitable retail centers in the country. However, the project begs an obvious question: Why is the church demolishing two malls only to replace them with another mall design?
The City Creek Center isn't a mall in the traditional sense. In the same spirit of the Gateway Center (five blocks West of Main Street) the plans are to build an outdoor life center. The current retail trend is for shoppers to be on faux streets. A controlled mall environment cannot provide street life. According to most, the lack of street life is what caused the two downtown malls to die and the Gateway Center to thrive. However, Salt Lake City did once have a thriving street life.
There are still some merchants on Main who predate the downtown mall era. Three merchants in particular have a combined family business history on Main Street of close to 300 years. They have watched Main Street flourish in the early 50's, then slowly decline as the suburban malls decentralized the city leaving much of Main Street blighted and vacant.
Fourty-years-ago the solution to bring shoppers back to downtown was to raze historic buildings and build two suburban-sytle downtown malls: first the Z.C.M.I Center in 1971, then the Crossroads Plaza in 1978. These malls were built over former intersecting streets: Richard's Street and Regence Street. The malls became a success, but at the cost of desimating nearly all pedestrian street life on Main Street-- by moving all shoppers indoors. Subsequently, nearly all merchants not within the fortress-like malls, closed their businesses. The malls attracted national chains such as Nordstrom and Weinstocks. Subsequently, the 100-year-old local department stores--The Paris Company and Auerbachs colapsed.
Lambs Restaurant survived the mall-era by having one of the most charming restaurants found anywhere. Lambs is Utah's oldest restaurant "I am not in favor of the skybridge. Everything I have heard about sky bridges is that they keep people off of the street, and if their objective is to improve Main Street I just don't see how a skybridge is going to accomplish this," says John Speros, Lambs Restaurant Owner.
Tony Weller, is a third-generation bookseller, Weller owns a three-level bookstore filled to the brim with rare books as well as best sellers. Weller says he is opposed to the bridge. Weller's main objection however, is over how easily the city is willing to make variances to their ordinances (of not allowing bridges over major streets) when wealthy investors ask them to make exceptions.
Bill Bennion (who owns Bennion Jewelry on Main Street) has a different opinion than Weller or Speros--he believes if Tuabman says the bridge is critical-- than we should accept their assessment."The skybridge, Yea it's a negative. But I'd rather have Taubman and Nordstrom downtown and work with it. " says Bennion.
Many critics have voiced their opposition to the skybridge besides just the fore mentioned. Including planning student Daniel Ball, Former Planning Director Steven Goldsmith, City Council Representative Soren Simonson to name a few.-- Jay Christiansen a student of Urban Planning at the University of Utah says, " The skybridge sends the message that Main Street is to be by-passed rather than experienced."
Despite the public sentiment, The Salt Lake City Planning Commission has approved the plans for the City Creek Center sky bridge. Hill, however is optimistic that the plans will not be approved in the City Council. "I think with the vote coming in 6-3, that there is some opposition...its just an inferior design. Main Street is for the City, the skybridge is for the mall."
Note: Utah Stories makes every effort to present both sides of issues we report on. We are aware that this story is very one-sided. For eight months we have made attempts to interview both Taubman Company Representatives and CCRI (City Creek Center Reserve) Representatives. Both parties have denied all of our requests for interviews.
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I learned about your website last night on the TV news, checked it out and found your story on the skybridge ("A Great Divide"). I thought it was quite biased towards the anti side, focusing on the people against the bridge with barely a blip given to those who support it. I'd like to see you do another story on the bridge focusing on those who support it. Unless I'm mistaken, the design for the skybridge in the City Creek project in SLC includes escalators on either end of it that take people down to the sidewalk on Main Street, so that people can walk down there. If this is true then people aren't "trapped" in a "tube" never to go down to the street. Your story neglected to address this. Also, I don't buy into the concerns of the foes of the bridge, that it will cause everyone to stay inside and off the street. If people want to get into the shops that line the street then they will no matter what. Just make sure the stores along the street are ones that are big draws... give them a reason to wander up and down Main Street by foot. Utah isn't southern California, we get snow and very cold winter conditions and naturally people are going to want to stay indoors at those times. The skybridge helps give people this option... it allows them to stay out of adverse weather. This is one great benefit of the enclosed bridge. I am no fan of the growing trend of outdoor malls like the Gateway. The skybridge isn't the end of the world.