The LDS Church is not looking to become the savior of downtown.
In fact, H. David Burton, presiding bishop of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, doesn't think the area needs a savior. But the church does have a keen interest in downtown and will soon become a major player in the area's revitalization as it remodels its sagging downtown mall.
Beyond renovation of the ZCMI Center mall, the largest property holder in downtown doesn't have any tricks up its sleeve that will rejuvenate Salt Lake City's central business district.
Nor is it planning any major downtown housing projects. But Bishop Burton said the church should seek to do a better job parlaying Temple Square visitors into downtown cash. And the church will continue to keep an eye on downtown development as the church crafts its mall redevelopment strategy.
Bishop Burton, along with Mark Gibbons, head of Property Reserve Inc. — the church's real estate arm — sat down with the Deseret News this week for an extensive interview about the church's role in downtown revitalization.
Indeed, the church has a keen desire for downtown to thrive since it doesn't want its international headquarters surrounded by boarded-up windows and storefronts.
Bishop Burton noted that one of the church's securities is its ability to draw thousands to its downtown campus through performances, tours and programs. The church, then, in cooperation with other groups, needs to encourage those people to shop, eat or play downtown, he said.
"Obviously one of our strengths is to get people downtown, and we ought to leverage that strength," Bishop Burton said. "We ought to encourage them to come down an hour early and have dinner. . . . We've got to do a better job of informing the population of what's available when they get here."
Soon, that group might have a larger playground. One avenue the LDS Church is considering is putting more family-oriented entertainment in the remodeled ZCMI Center.
Specifically, Burton seemed keen on virtual reality.
"You can play the finest golf course right across the street. You can take the most daring ski runs in the world right across the street. . . . Simulation and things like that are all part of what we're anxious to look at," he said.
In addition to family-type entertainment the church is looking for a mixed-use development at what Burton called a "tired" mall.
"We've probably got to rely a lot more on mixed use than we have in the past," he said. "We need a downtown urban population. . . . I think in the future of downtown and, of course, the church is a major part of that future, multi-uses are one of the keys of success, and multi-uses includes retail, office and an urban population."
Beyond mixed use, the church would like to restructure the mall so that more storefronts face Main Street, rather than facing inside the closed mall, Gibbons said. Still, the church is handcuffed slightly because it can't reconfigure the Meier & Frank store and wants to keep the mall's existing parking structure. The church did recently reach an agreement with longtime tenant Gart Sports Inc. that pushed the store out of the mall, in lieu of possible reconstruction of the mall's southwest corner.
Bishop Burton said he is encouraged by the relocation of KUTV Channel 2 to Main Street even though the station competes with one of the church's downtown holdings — KSL-TV Channel 5.
On Thursday Bishop Burton took a tour, along with Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson, County Councilman Randy Horiuchi and Main Street property owner Rick Howa, to a Main Street locale that might be turned into a Broadway-style theater.
Bishop Burton said the church would support any effort to bring more theater, arts or other entertainment to the area.
The church is encouraged by the focus downtown is receiving, and Bishop Burton thinks one major coup for downtown — like a big retailer or significant entertainment draw — would lead to a snowball of economic development in the downtown area.
"For the first time in a very long time there is starting to be some focus generated from a lot of different sources on downtown," he said. "We've done a lot of talking in the past but not much focus. I see leaders in the Downtown Alliance. I see leaders in the Chamber of Commerce. I see direction coming out of the city administration. And some of those interested property holders along Main Street are staring to focus on the real issues of the downtown and that's very encouraging."