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Buhler, Becker tackle downtown

City Creek Center and the development's proposed skybridge over Main Street were among the topics addressed by the candidates for Salt Lake City mayor during a downtown-focused debate Wednesday.

Ralph Becker and Dave Buhler spent their respective lunch hours with local business leaders on the 23rd floor of the Wells Fargo building for a debate hosted by The Forum, a nonprofit group of young Utah professionals.

Several questions dealing with City Creek Center were on the menu, including the issue of whether retail businesses in the 20-acre, mixed-use development of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints should be open on Sundays and whether restaurants there should be able to serve alcohol.

Officials with Property Reserve Inc., the real-estate division of the LDS Church, have said all businesses on property owned by the church will be closed Sundays. In addition, a "limited number of high-quality restaurant tenants" at City Creek Center — but not on church property — may apply for licenses to serve alcoholic beverages, according to PRI.

Both mayoral candidates said they'd prefer to see stores open at City Creek Center seven days a week and alcohol served in the appropriate establishments. But that decision is up to the private-property owner, they said.

"This is private property we're talking about," Buhler said. "I don't think it's the role of the city to say when they should be open, when they should be closed and whether they should serve alcohol or not."

Rather than dictate what the LDS Church does with its downtown businesses, the city should be working to make the rest of downtown an inviting place, Becker said. Laws that limit the number of establishments on a city block that can sell alcohol need to be changed, he said, and a true downtown entertainment district needs to be established.

"That kind of activity level, that kind of development in the rest of downtown is of upmost importance," Becker said.

Buhler used the opening in Becker's call for a change in liquor laws to challenge the state House minority leader on his lack of action on the matter during his 11 years in the Legislature.

"Here's a difference between Rep. Becker and me: I've actually worked to make liquor laws more reasonable," he said.

Buhler, a two-term Salt Lake City councilman who spent four years in the state Senate, cited a bill he sponsored in 1998 that was passed into law, allowing consumers to use credit cards instead of cash only at state liquor stores.

"Guess how many bills (Becker) introduced to reform our liquor laws? None," he said. "While in the Legislature, you could do something about it, but you didn't even try."

Buhler said he plans to work with the state Legislature to allow cities to control the number of restaurants with liquor licenses.

The candidates also shared their differing views on the skybridge proposed as part of City Creek Center. If approved by the Salt Lake City Council, the skybridge would connect the second-level shops on one side of Main Street to the other.

The City Council already has approved an amendment to the city's master plan to accommodate the skybridge but has not yet ruled on specific plans for the bridge. The master plan previously prevented skybridges over city streets but now allows for bridges to be considered if they meet certain conditions.

Becker calls the skybridge "a bad idea," saying the skybridge will take pedestrian traffic off Main Street.

"What we need in Salt Lake City is a vibrant downtown at street level," he said.

Buhler disagreed, saying the City Creek development will bring people downtown, and the skybridge will enable people to better access the two-level development.

"When's the last time somebody got stampeded on Main Street?" he asked rhetorically. "We need to bring more people to Main Street, and this development will do that."