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Anxious to forge a consensus among downtown businesses, Salt Lake downtown activists want to form an alliance of business interests to represent the downtown area as it heads into a new era of development.

The coalition would replace groups now steering downtown growth, such as the Central Business Improvement District, which is funded by business license fees, and the Salt Lake Area Chamber of Commerce's downtown committee.Still other organizations, such as the Regional/Urban Design Assistance Team and Salt Lake Mayor Palmer DePaulis' Capital City Committee dabble in downtown affairs.

Yet with a plethora of downtown groups in Utah's capital city, there isn't a unified voice representing the area, especially as it confronts crucial development opportunities like those on ailing Block 57, alliance organizers say.

"The problem with downtown Salt Lake City is there has never been anybody to look out for everybody's interests," said John Williams, co-chair of the committee organizing the alliance and a downtown restaurateur.

Other developments, such as a new Utah Jazz basketball arena, a judicial complex in the southern downtown and an expanded Salt Palace convention complex, lie on the downtown horizon.

In an effort to bring forth a single voice, Williams and committee chairman John Schumann, a city Planning Commission member, hope to form the Downtown Alliance and model it after similar bodies in other major cities.

The alliance, governed by a board of directors and staffed by an executive director and two to three staff members, would be funded by a "special benefit assessment."

The assessment would be levied against businesses in an area that could be bounded by 200 East, 600 South and North and West Temple, according to a business plan drawn up for the alliance.

Organizers have yet to identify a rate for the special benefit assessment but say it will be less than the fee, based on a complicated formula, paid now to the the CBID. The business plan calls for a first year budget of up to $636,000.

Enabling legislation is being prepared for January's session to permit the fee to be levied and to establish of district boundaries.

One responsibility of the group, like those in other major U.S. cities, is to go to bat for the downtown area in the political arena - before the Salt Lake City Council, the County Commission of the state Legislature.

"One of the most important aspects of this organization is to advocate for downtown business interests," Williams said.

Representing diverse interests in the downtown areas could be a challenge, organizers admit. But with a strong executive director driving consensus among businesses, the alliance could be an effective political force, Schumann said.

"We hope that the executive director is one hell of a conciliator," Schumann said.

The alliance could share a responsibility to provide maintenance and other services in the downtown area. Alliances in other cities such as Hartford, Conn. and Seattle provide downtown maintenance and security.

However, Williams points out a Salt Lake alliance could be unwilling to fund endeavors, such as police protection, for which the city is already responsible.

"It (the alliance) will never take over from what the city must do," he said.

Promoting the downtown area as a destination for shoppers and retail outlets is another objective of the alliance, organizers say.

The alliance enjoys support from the mayor and from the Chamber of Commerce, which would lose its downtown committee to the formation of the new downtown group.

"Though there may be a change that would dilute the chamber's clout, I think it needs to be done," said Chamber President Fred Ball.