The new 21,000-seat Conference Center bridges the 170 years since the Church was organized in a small log home in Fayette, N.Y., on April 6, 1830, with six members to the present with Church membership at 10.8 million.

The opening of the center for general conference on April 1 is just five days short of 17 decades from the time a few dozen followers gathered with Joseph Smith Jr. at the Peter Whitmer home for the formal organization of the Church.At that meeting in Fayette, could those in attendance -- likely fewer than 50 people in all -- have imagined the strides forward the Church would make in membership over the next 170 years? Two months later, at the first general conference of the Church, held in the same Peter Whitmer home in June of 1830, Church membership numbered 27.

Over the ensuing years, conferences were held at various locations -- including open-air boweries and the smaller, original tabernacle on the southwest corner of Temple Square -- until the current Salt Lake Tabernacle essentially became the home of conference beginning in October 1867. But the Tabernacle, which seats about 6,000 on the floor and in the balcony, was eventually outgrown by the Church.

During the April 1996 general conference, President Gordon B. Hinckley mentioned that the Church was considering constructing a new building that would seat three or four times what the Tabernacle could. He acknowledged it wouldn't be possible to house all the members of the Church in one building, but said a new building would help accommodate "those in large numbers who wish to be seated where they can see in person those who are speaking and participating in other ways."

In remarks during the groundbreaking ceremony for the Conference Center on July 24, 1997, -- 150 years after the first pioneers entered the Salt Lake Valley -- President Hinckley said: "We have known, of course, that we can never provide a hall large enough to house all of the Latter-day Saints. They're too widely scattered and they're too numerous, and that's a wonderful blessing. But we can accommodate far more than we're now able to accommodate."

He later added, "The architect and the building people have promised me that it will be ready for use for the April conference of the year 2000. So you can put that in your journals and hope that it comes to pass."

And so more than 100,000 people will attend five sessions of general conference April 1-2. The Conference Center, so named by announcement of the First Presidency in August 1999 -- will be dedicated in October when its large pipe organ and other details are completed.

Construction has gone forward at a vigorous pace. The weather during its 33 months of construction has generally been favorable with mild winters. What few snowstorms there have been in Salt Lake City during that time have hit during the night with the sun coming out in the morning allowing construction to go forward. The building even survived a tornado in August 1999. Although the twister passed directly over the nearly-enclosed building, it did very little damage and caused little delay in the construction schedule.

On the block directly north of Temple Square, the Conference Center will be a multiple-use facility. In the October 1998 general conference, President Hinckley said of the building: "It will be primarily a house of worship. But it will also be a place of art. There will be concerts and other public offerings that will be uplifting and wholesome and spiritual."

Its staging area is large enough for the presentation of full-scale pageants. The massive rostrum, which will be occupied by General Authorities and choirs during conference sessions, is portable and can be completely removed.

All 21,000 seats in the auditorium have an unobstructed view of the stage from the lower and upper orchestra, terrace and balcony levels. The auditorium is surrounded by three levels of foyers with elevators, escalators, rest rooms and other support facilities.

By the time the building is dedicated in October, it will be completely finished. Until then, work continues on the roof plaza, which will be opened to the public sometime during the summer, and the 900-seat theater under construction on the northwest corner of the center. Also yet to be completed is the 7,667-pipe organ. There is other minor mechanical and finish work that will be done before the dedication.

Another associated project that is nearing completion is an underground parking garage on Main Street between Temple Square and the Church Office Building block. Work will be finished this summer on a garden plaza covering the garage and connecting the temple grounds with the plaza to the east.

The Conference Center has been built to a standard of quality that should make it so that from its April conference opening, it will be the site for conferences for at least as long as its predecessor, the Salt Lake Tabernacle.