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Will chess, art spice up Main?

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While it's not the retail shops city leaders covet, Main Street downtown is getting an injection of more parking, chess and art, which Mayor Rocky Anderson hopes will re-energize the city's most discussed street.

The chess and parking are already there.

The city recently installed four chess tables in front of Sam Weller's Zion Bookstore on Main Street between 200 and 300 South. The tables are designed to encourage activity on the sometimes inactive street. There is even a $1,000 outdoor chess tournament scheduled for next month.

And those coming down for the chess will have 20 extra places to park on Main Street, Anderson announced this week. By shortening "No Parking" zones, city staffers have freed up space for 20 new spaces on Main Street from 400 South to South Temple.

"People now will see Salt Lake City downtown is the most easily accessible downtown in the country," he said.

A block up from the chess tables, Anderson has persuaded property owner Rick Howa to take down the plywood from the boarded-up storefronts Howa owns and replace the wood with art crafted by local artisans.

"It can't help but beautify Main Street, and it shows a real support for the arts community," Anderson said in a recent interview. "It makes for a much more interesting pedestrian experience."

The first piece will be painted by Ruby Chacon, who plans three pieces — a middle 6-foot-by-6-foot piece framed by two 3-foot-by-6-foot canvasses, painted with oil.

The subject? The paintings will consist of a small cafe or coffee house, where famous and semi-famous Utahns and others will fill the stools. While Chacon is keeping quiet about the cafe's patrons, she did reveal that Anderson will be one.

"It will be good for me, and hopefully the general public will enjoy it," she said. "Since we don't have a lot of murals in this city we might as well have some in vacant windows."

As for the chess, to christen the new tables Sam Weller's is hosting the first of what it hopes will be an annual chess tournament. This year's event, which runs July 7- 22, is dubbed simply "Chess on Main 2003."

"Nothing adds a little life to the sidewalk better than a lively and intense game of chess," Anderson said in a statement heralding the tables' arrival to Main Street downtown.

The tournament has three categories — 12 and under, adult and championship — and will dole out more than $1,000 in prize money.

While there have been few registrants to date, bookstore manager Katie Bergstrom says she is hoping more will sign up before the July 1 registration deadline.

"The city just put three or four community chess tables in front of our store, so we decided to utilize them and bring people to Main Street," she said. "We're hoping more people sign up."

E-mail: bsnyder@desnews.com