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S.L. redevelopment projects pay tribute to city’s diversity
‘Jewish cowboy’ aims to transform urban wasteland

SHARE S.L. redevelopment projects pay tribute to city’s diversity
‘Jewish cowboy’ aims to transform urban wasteland

Stephen Goldsmith was born and raised in Utah, as was his father and his grandfather. His lips rise with just a hint of an ironic smile as he proudly calls himself "a fourth-generation Jewish cowboy."

In a city famous for its supposed homogeneity -- "all Mormon, all the time" is how some people describe it -- Goldsmith is transforming a patch of urban wasteland into a community center honoring his hometown's hidden multicultural heritage."We don't want to have a veneer of diversity, we want to have real diversity," Goldsmith, a nonprofit developer, said, sitting in the loft office of his organization, Artspace. "This state was industrialized on the backs of other groups, like the Italians and the Greeks, who worked the mines."

When Artspace's "Bridges Project" goes up on 2 1/2 acres not far from the Salt Lake Temple, it will be just a small part of a dramatic make-over for a rundown corner of the city planned to coincide with the 2002 Winter Olympics. The square-mile neighborhood southwest of Temple Square is something of a no-man's land -- a squalid chasm between the working-class west side (home to a growing Latino community) and the more affluent east side.

"Part of our goal is to connect the west side and the east side," said Alice Steiner, executive director of the city's redevelopment agency. "We want to use this redevelopment process to make the whole city into one city, together."

Artspace's project, expected to break ground in July, will include a Buddhist temple run by a Japanese-American and meeting space for the National Conference for Community and Justice, formerly known as the National Conference of Christians and Jews. There will be a studio for Radio Free Utah, which is run by an American Indian woman.

By far, the largest project in the redevelopment area is one being assembled by the Boyer Co. In a 40-acre parcel that includes an abandoned rail yard, the company will build an urban village with 600 apartments and condominiums, retail and office space and a 300-room hotel. Before going on the market, many of the apartments will serve as housing for journalists covering the Olympics.

"It will be a huge shot in the arm to that part of the city," said Steve Caine of Boyer.

For now, however, the area remains a collection of mostly dilapidated brick warehouses, empty factories and clapboard homes surrounding the old Union Pacific depot. It was once home to a small Japantown and Greektown that have mostly disappeared. Most of the activity centers on a few gay bars and the city's largest homeless shelter.

"This is the heart of Salt Lake, and people tend to be afraid of it," said Donna Land Maldonado, a member of the Northern Ute tribe and general manager of Radio Free Utah. The Boyer development is seen as the cornerstone of the city's attempt to transform the area into a municipal "gateway." The company is also trying to purchase the rail terminal, renovating it into shops and restaurants.

The redevelopment agency has earmarked $18 million in public subsidies for the Boyer project. Goldsmith hasn't received any city funding, although he's still trying to secure backing.

Goldsmith said he believes the city has given him the cold shoulder because his project has become synonymous with cultural diversity. In Salt Lake City, Goldsmith pointed out, diversity does not always carry the happy connotations it might in other U.S. cities.

"Around here, it's the 'D' word," he said.

(Redevelopment officials say they are still considering his application for city funding. He's relying mostly on private sources, including a grant from the Eccles Foundation.)

All those involved in the redevelopment agree that there is much at stake for the city in the Olympics-inspired projects. Residents see their hometown as the neglected stepchild of Western cities, living in the shadow of bigger and more prosperous sisters, such as Las Vegas, Denver and Phoenix.

Joanne Milner, the city councilwoman who represents the area, said she worries that, in the haste to prepare the city's gateway for the Olympics, the area's poorest residents will suffer.

"For years, the city didn't improve the lighting, the services or the streets, but now it's a potential gold mine," Milner said. "As big developers come in, they will shove poor people out and displace the small businesses. It doesn't take much knowledge to see that's what has happened in other places."

Steiner sees the growing commercial interest in the area as a sign of hope.

"I've been pleased with how the planning process has changed perceptions of what can happen" in the area, she said. "At the beginning, people thought we were crazy and that making changes (downtown) was an insane idea."