In a state where big dreams almost qualify as a state crop, Utahns have never lacked in the planting of visions.
Harvesting has been another story.Through the years, dreamers have announced public and private projects planned to revolutionize the way Utahns live - from taming the Great Salt Lake to taming west downtown, from digging a supertunnel through the Wasatch Mountains to digging the foundation for a 400-room hotel high atop Traverse Ridge.
Utah was founded on the persistent dreams of a band of pioneers. They passed that gift along to their children and their children's children. The ability to imagine a better world somehow seems as entwined with Utah's culture as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
On the drawing board for the public agenda are plans to host the world's athletes by hoisting the interlocking rings of the Olympic Games above Utah soil, laying tracks for a high-speed commuter train and making believers out of a doubting scientific community with a clean, inexhaustible form of energy. Other developments, such as the much ballyhooed Triad Center, are basically artificial heartburn attacks in the past.
The only link between the dream-size developments that Utah has entertained in recent years is that they all concern making desert life more palatable, by channeling water in or pumping it away, preserving history or building it.
Some of Utah's greater expectations have to do with the lake that has ruled the lives of the people of the region for more than 10,000 years. In the six years since the floods came, Utahns are already back to driving by it and flying over it - rarely pausing to think about the powerful salty waters the size of the state of Delaware that put Salt Lake City on the map and most recently stole from the state's cache of riches.
From diking the inland lake into a freshwater paradise, to taming its shores with a profitable resort, Utah's dreamers dwell on the unpredictable Great Salt Lake waters. Most of the rest of us have too easily dismissed the waters that colored our earlier summers and think too rarely of how the salty sea controls our destiny.
Dreams, however, rarely translate into reality.
Thayne Robson, executive director of the University of Utah's Bureau of Economic and Business Research, said dreaming frequently propels economists into the awkward position of having to explain the facts of life to politicians, visionaries and potential investors.
"I think we're in line with other states in the ability to dream up great dreams," Robson said. "There is a tendency here, as elsewhere, to underestimate the costs and subsidies involved."
Utah's greater expectations, projects shuffled from drawing boards to back burners, discussed in Capitol hallways or over dining room tables - realized or not - will continue to color the state's future.
Imagine swanky subdivisions with a yacht in every garage, all clustered around Venice-style canals on the shores of the Great Salt Lake.
That's the brainchild of Bountiful architect Don Johnson, who proposes 13 miles of concrete dikes - price tag: $100 million - to harness the stinky waters of the world's largest salty inland sea into Lake Wasatch, a freshwater paradise.
Johnson envisions dikes linking the shore near I-80 to the lake's two islands and the northern shore near Promontory Point. He's touting the diking system to transform the briney waters into a residential amenity and a tourist lure. In Johnson's scenario, developers would build hotels and golf courses on the shore, bringing tourists in scores, while the state could develop a wildlife preserve on Antelope Island.
The plan has gotten support from some local movers and shakers. But funding appears as elusive as the perfect sailing wind. Gov. Norm Bangerter's Great Salt Lake Development Authority, recently appointed to study the idea, operates on state handouts.
Even a test of diking panels, which the Legislature budgeted $100,000 for, will be accomplished only if Davis County cities agree to donate trucks to help rebuild part of the Antelope Island Causeway that was ravaged by a rising lake.
Besides funding concerns, Lake Wasatch's obstacles include the hunters and wildlife officials who fear the plan will ruin a popular stopover for migrating birds.
Like a debutante, Saltair, the Roman-flavored pavilion perched on the shores of the Great Salt Lake, enjoyed a brief waltz during 1983. As many as 30,000 residents and tourists brought cards to the dance, mingling on weekends to preen by the shores of the world-famous lake, enjoying the $2.5 million transformation of an old airplane hangar into a pavilion.
In the fall, both Brigham Young University and the University of Utah held homecoming dances there. By Christmas, the floods had worked with destroying hands.
Since the turn of the century, a resort on the shores of the lake has been a part of Salt Lakers' memories. Two earlier Saltair buildings died in flaming tragedy, in 1925 and 1970.
Wally Wright, the father of Trolley Square, and the Silver family are partners in running gift shops and the Saltair Yacht Sales alongside the lake. The Saltair Resort Inc. plans to keep its concessions open for tourist pit stops throughout the winter.
Over the company's former parking lot floats a 45-foot stern-wheeler river boat. Perched upon a functional dike, a railroad car-cum-gift shop also greets tourists. Outside, a loudspeaker repeatedly shouts the Saltair story and blares an invitation to come inside. Inside both shops await trinkets and postcards and free tastes of salt water taffy.
The Saltair pavilion itself, which, once rebuilt, entertained five years of water, has been dry since midsummer. Silver and Wright, still guardedly optimistic, plan to rebuild as soon as they secure financing. Despite the flood damage, they say the building is still structurally sound.
"I have people almost every month that come out here and say they have a plan to redevelop Saltair. One of these days I think something will work," Silver said.
The only figure easier to calculate than the Wasatch Supertunnel's super price tag of about $400 million is the amount of money raised for the project so far: $0.
Blueprints define the tunnel as twin parallel shafts blasted through 20 miles of solid granite linking Draper and Park City and all the ski resorts in between.
Welcome to the world of the Supertunnel, a planned marvel of civil engineering that visionaries say could house an electric commuter train as well as high-tech science projects that need to be shielded from cosmic rays.
Besides transporting skiers and shielding science, the tunnel could drain the flooded Park City mining district and carry Jordanelle Reservoir water through hydroelectric turbines to the Wasatch Front.
Representatives of Salt Lake County, Draper, the Salt Lake County Water Conservancy District and Salt Lake County Service Area No. 3 met almost once a month when the project was first picking up steam two years ago. The most recent meeting was last February.
An announcement that the tunnel might collect usable water drew an immediate filing with the state by a somewhat nebulous group of investors for any water the tunnel might produce. And local and state government officials showed their enthusiasm for the idea of a supertunnel, but all stopped short of pledging public funds for a feasibility study estimated to cost $220,000 to $300,000.
The group approached Gov. Norm Bangerter for $150,000 in April 1988, but the best tunnel promoters have been able to do is to get their project listed with several others in a federally funded $200,000 transportation study still being conducted under the direction of the Mountainlands Association of Governments.
The glittering bronzescape promises of the Triad Center, a sprawling 32-acre, $600 million development punctuated with sky pumping 43-story twin office towers, bears resemblance to the Emerald City in the legendary land of Oz.
Saudi Arabian arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi's visionary west Salt Lake development and Dorothy's promised city both turned out to be imaginary.
Only Triad Center 3, 4 and 5 - three buildings housing more than 500,000 square feet of office space and once-exclusive, now bankrupt retail shops - made it off the drawing boards.
What was built of the center, optimistically dubbed "The Gathering Place," enjoyed a brief social whirl as an entertainment-shopping center in 1984-85. One drawing card was the city's newest dine-and-be-seen-in restaurant located in the restored Devereaux Mansion. The center's street-sheltered brick plaza boasted an outdoor amphitheater and ice skating rink and served as the backdrop for years of Utah Arts Festivals.
And that was only to be the first phase of the complex, promised by Khashoggi in a series of early 1980s press conferences to include 32 acres of condominiums, two hotels, theaters, an international bazaar, a farmers market, grocery store, an athletic facility and jobs or homes for 17,000.
The flashy, June 7, 1985, groundbreaking of One Triad Center - highlighted by a "dueling bulldozers" act performed by the brothers, Adnan and Essam - was as far as Triad promises were to get. Instead of a towering office building, the steel girders rusting in the soil through the winter of 1985-86 became a symbol of Utah's downturned economy.
Thanks to Khashoggi's well-publicized financial problems, The Travelers Co. took possession of the center in 1987 following the Saudi Arabian arms dealer's default on a $38 million loan.
Now, the complex functions mostly as office space. And KSL's Broadcast House, topped with a helicopter landing pad, and AT&T's district headquarters perform as the anchors shoring up the west downtown luxury development that never grew up into an Arab's epic-size promises.
The craggy peaks lording over Provo have prompted visions of a four-season resort since 1949. But so far, skiers haven't been able to enjoy carving stem christies turns in the east Provo foothills.
Over the years, the idea of a swanky resort has spun through a revolving door of name selections: Seven Mountains, Heritage Mountain and now Seven Peaks.
Resort development proposals have followed a traditional route, of signing on financial backers and obtaining Forest Service permits before losing both, then being revived by new developers starting the cycle again.
In its most recent shape, Heritage Mountain was revived in 1987 after Stansbury Mining, owned by Alpine businessman Victor Borcherds, received approval of a reorganization plan from the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Salt Lake City. Borcherds, from South Africa, has been employed taking companies through Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings and reorganizing them for recovery. Heritage Mountain was one of those reorganized companies.
Borcherds expects to make the $26.5 million ski resort fly this time under a scaled-down version, which is planned in phases. So far, the resort's water park has been completed, and plans are proceeding for construction of a nearby golf course.
In their original life, the ivy-covered historic buildings at Academy Square housed Brigham Young Academy, the precursor of the burgeoning university today known for its football passing attack and its vats of Y. Sparkle punch. While waiting for a makeover, the square's most useful function is its duties as a backdrop for haunted houses.
Reincarnation of the Y.'s roots has been painful. Vandalism has taken its toll. And seven (count 'em: seven) developers in the last 13 years have tried to get their hands on the historic bricks that date back to 1875.
Financing is the major hurdle blocking restoration of Academy Square into a thriving historic center - similar to Salt Lake's Trolley Square, Boston's Faneuil Hall or San Francisco's Ghirardelli Square.
The Brigham Young Academy Foundation - in its 10th year of trying to preserve the buildings - is the latest group to sign an option to buy the property. They hope to raise $800,000 in the next six months to pay for the square.
If the foundation fails to raise the money, the academy will go back to Collier Heinz & Associates, a Salt Lake investment company that owns the facility. The owners say it would cost more to restore the buildings than bring in the wrecking ball and will likely tear down the buildings and develop the site if the foundation does not raise the money.
Foundation officials say this is their last chance to save the buildings which housed the Academy from 1875 and 1892. The group aims to return the facility, located in Provo between 500 and 600 North on University Avenue, to its educational use, converting the buildings into a community center with performing arts and vocational education classes.
For two years, the Arizona-based Estes Co. has been talking about building an exclusive Utah housing development with prison-view lots.
Point of the Mountain, the foothill peninsula that separates Salt Lake County from its neighboring Utah County, is famous as the dramatic dateline for news stories chronicling the state's most notorious criminals housed at the Utah State Prison.
But Estes' officials think the Point could be fitted with a 400-room hotel, an 18-hole golf course and 6,500 residential units. In preparation for the multimillion dollar development, dubbed Traverse Mountain, rural Draper City two years ago carved out 4,700 acres of northern Utah County land and popped city limits signs out around it.
Now, 18 months after hammers were supposed to be in action, the Estes Co. is still trying to find some way to finance the ambitious project, hoping to scrape together a spare $40 million to $50 million or so. "We're still in the financing phase. We're still trying to secure that," said Ed Grampp, local Estes representative. "I wouldn't say we're close, but we're in that phase."
Utahns need to practice patience if they ever hope to see these long-discussed projects - now languishing in the black hole between announcement and dedication cermonies - reach fruition:
- West Valley Highway - A 30-block stretch is now on designing boards for the long-talked-about westside commuter corridor. Inked onto planning maps for more than 20 years, the highway gained a second wind through the political support of local boy Gov. Norm Bangerter. Good bet.
- Jordan River Parkway - A lush riverside park and trail system, proposed in the 1970s, never grew up beyond spotty oasis patches. It's so low on the priority list that Salt Lake County recently borrowed an earmarked chunk as the site for its new minimum security jail. On permanent hold.
- Ski Interconnect - Plan pushed by the ski and tourism industries would link five of Utah's Wasatch Front ski resorts with new lifts, providing a European, varied terrain experience that industry rival Colorado can't match. Slowly but surely.
- Wall-to-wall cities - City government types have long talked about a combination of annexation or incorporation that would eliminate unincorporated county service areas within Salt Lake County limits - helping county government out of the municipal service delivery business. Stay tuned.
- West Desert Pumping Project - Brigham Young studied the same idea, but Gov. Norm Bangerter gets the credit - or blame - for flooding Utah's west desert with Great Salt Lake brine. The highly controversial $60 million pumps were mothballed last June, after draining about 2.2 million acre feet of water. Officials say they are just resting and could be operational again in 90 days. Time out.
- Block 57 - Development plans are moving again, but the blighted central block sandwiched between State and Main Streets and 200 and 300 South remains a symbol of all that's wrong with the capital city's downtown. Watch this space.
- New Jazz Arena - Auto magnate Larry Miller, in his familiar savior role, has promised to build his basketball team a new home, but financing snags may stall groundbreaking on the 20,400-seat arena. Now featured.
- Burr Trail - Environmental groups squawked with the power of five lawsuits to block Garfield County's plans to pave a 66-mile dirt road stretching from Boulder to Bullfrog in neighboring Kane County. Judges ruled against the suits, and the county is moving ahead. Green light.
- Bountiful/University of Utah Connection - A pipe dream for Davis County commuters, at one time transportation planners discussed an expressway connecting Bountiful to the U. Common sense and neighborhood political clout prevailed. A related, mid-'60s transportation idea was a bridge spanning City Creek Canyon from Capitol Hill to 11th Avenue at B Street. Both ideas made it onto area masterplans, but common sense and neighborhood political clout prevailed. Option not picked up.
- Dimple Dell Reservoir/golf course/natural park - Whatever the use proposed for this valuable chunk of Sandy island real estate, protective east-siders traditionally use it to throw out politicians who attempt to deface it. Proceeding with caution.
- Airport monorail - Long before the Supertunnel, someone conceived a rapid-transit system to plunk travelers directly from the airport into downtown. Not in your children's lifetime.
- Monorail II - While most politicians have settled on light rail as the commuter system of choice, one group of Salt Lake businesspeople is sounding a quiet voice in favor of a Disney-style, $550 million monorail system to link Wasatch Front cities. Not in your grandchildren's lifetime.