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S.L. block may get a new slant

Tired of Salt Lake City's same old grid pattern, with square block after square block? Think all those parallelograms, while unquestionably orderly, are also boring? Thirsting for a change?

Then take a look at a preliminary master plan proposed for the block just east of the City & County Building, current site of the library, 3rd District Court and jail.The new buildings proposed for the site are, eh, tilted.

They're not leaning like the Tower of Pisa, mind you. Rather, they're skewed horizontally, such that they don't follow straight north-south, east-west lines.

Burke Cartwright, a consulting architect working with the city, says the block's cant is intended to tie together the downtown area with the southeast residential area of the city, located at diagonals from each other.

"People would come from the residential areas into a type of town square, then into the central business district," he said.

The city's grid pattern, however, would be respected. The buildings would be skewed completely only on their inward-facing sides.

In a few months the 3rd District Court will move to its new quarters west of City Hall. Then, next year, the county jail will move to the new jail being built at 3300 South and 900 West. The library board and city plan to hold a $40 million bond election for a new library next fall. That leaves a whole block to be rebuilt.

"We have a wonderful opportunity," said city architect Richard Young.

While much remains to be decided, preliminary plans are to demolish all buildings on site except the old library, which would be converted into offices or a museum. A new library would be built on the northwest corner, the Children's Museum would move from 300 West to just east of the new library, city offices now scattered across the city would consolidate into new buildings around the old library, and high-class apartments would sprout up on the block's east side.

The buildings would define a plaza in the block's interior.

Planners have designed sight lines to the City & County Building, and have tried in other ways to make the two blocks architecturally compatible such that they and the new Scott M. Matheson Courthouse form a "civic anchor" to the downtown area.

Very nice, very innovative - and very expensive.

"It is an ambitious plan," Cartwright conceded.

If everything goes as tentatively planned, after all the old tenants clear out, all the buildings on the block (except the old library) will be demolished, the plaza and new library built and the open space landscaped before the 2002 Winter Games. Then, when there is time and money, the other portions of the block will be constructed.

The first phase "is kind of a holding pattern," Cartwright said.

Right now the plan is in a public comment period, after which it will make its way through city inspections and approvals.