Pioneer Park has endured decades of good intentions and grandiose plans, none of which has become reality. Meanwhile, as politicians postured, drug dealers and thieves moved in and transformed the site of Salt Lake City's first settlement into its most notorious square block - a place where crimes were committed with impunity in broad daylight.
That's why city leaders should be commended for their recent efforts to rid the park of its bad element and reclaim it for law-abiding people.First, police decided in April to station at least four officers in the park 24 hours a day. This came after the fourth homicide in the park in as many months. The City Council now has strengthened that resolve by voting this week to close the park from 30 minutes after sunset each day until 7 a.m.
A clean Pioneer Park would do wonders for the west side of downtown. Businesses surrounding the park no doubt would do better without drug dealers harassing customers. Property owners would feel more inclined to fix broken buildings once they feel the area has promise, and new businesses may decide to invest in surrounding blocks. Most importantly, the city once again would reap the benefits of a valuable green park downtown that is safe for families - an important asset as it tries to attract more residents to the area.
Through the years, various city leaders have called for restoring the old Pioneer Fort in the park, making it a tourist attraction. A slick, color brochure from the 1960s shows an artist's rendition of one such plan, complete with cabins and covered wagons.
Today, visitors would be happy just to be able to walk safely through the park and to contemplate its history or to look closely at Union Pacific Locomotive 833, which was donated to the park in 1972 after a distinguished career as one of the nation's fastest passenger engines.
Police sweeps never solve chronic crime problems. They just move them to new venues. Undoubtedly, the people who used to rule and terrorize Pioneer Park soon will assemble elsewhere and present new law-enforcement challenges.
But if the city continues its resolve to clean the park, word eventually will spread and the reputation of an important west downtown neighborhood will change. For the city and its residents, that would be a good thing.