And now for a bit of local news for Salt Lake City. I remember one day in New Hampshire, as I was just becoming acclimated to my temporary home while in school, but still feeling homesick for my real home in Salt Lake City. The news was apparently rampant in Salt Lake, and yet I had not yet heard until that point: the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints had purchased the Crossroads Mall, aka Crossroads Plaza.
This was the mall of my childhood. Well, one of them. When I was a very wee lad, we lived down the street from the Fashion Place Mall in Murray, UT. When I was still in my pre-teen years, we moved to Magna, UT, where the closest mall was Valley Fair Mall in West Valley City, UT. But on those special days that we got to go with dad into work, we were literally within walking distance of the Crossroads Mall. I still remember fondly going there early in the morning, when the only store open was Orange Julius, and buying chocolate-glazed chocolate donuts for breakfast. I remember working as a gopher (go fer this, go fer that) at my dad's office in my high school years, and walking over to the music store to purchase They Might Be Giant's Miscellaneous T album. More recently, I have fond memories of going to Agnes Poetry's in-store performance at the Borders store at the mall. And every so often, my wife and like to head down to that area to walk around the mall and just enjoy being there together.
When the LDS church made their announcement, I was a little surprised. Their reasoning made sense to me: the current owners were no longer interested in owning it and had offered it up for sale, and the LDS church purchased it in an effort to maintain the beauty of the area near the famous Temple Square across the street. No church tithing money was used to make the purchase. As it turns out, the LDS church owns a variety of private businesses, such as Bonneville Communications, which runs local TV and radio stations KSL. Such businesses were the source of the purchase money.
As time moved on and I graduated from school, I moved back to Utah and still made various trips to the area. There was a new mall in town, the Gateway Mall, just down the street. Several stores had already migrated to the Gateway, and Crossroads wasn't offering any new leases. Then one day at the Hot Topic store at Crossroads, a clerk explained to my wife and I that the majority of the stores would be clearing out. In fact, only high-end retail was expected to remain. In my mind, that meant that the beloved mall of my youth was about to become very boring. Still, in retrospect, I don't suppose the LDS church had really released a whole lot of official detail on the future of this property.
Now, a good three years or so after the purchase of the mall, the LDS church has announced its plans for reconstruction and renovation. The plans include a retail spaces, including a few national department stores such as Nordstrom and Macys. There will be new office space , and even some residential units. There will be underground parking, pedestrial walkways, gardens, fountains, a mock city creek, and even a grocery store. Not unexpected for property owned by the LDS church, the stores will be closed on Sunday, but many restaurants may choose to remain open on that day. The plan includes twenty acres of development, and will take five years to complete.
I'm still a little in a state of shock. I haven't even finished reading all of the news and releases about the project, and I'm still taken aback. Several historic old buildings will be torn down and replaced, as it would be significantly more expensive to just renovate them. The face of Salt Lake City has already changed a lot, even just in the decade since I graduated from high school, and it has more change to come. I already wouldn't recognize a lot of it if my childhood self was to suddenly be transported from the past into today. I'm sad to know that so many memories are about to be demolished. And yet, I'm not entirely disappointed.
Anyone who has visited Temple Square in Salt Lake knows the LDS church's penchant for beauty. The somewhat recent construction of their Conference Center north of Temple Square is a thing of wonder. While many may expect what in other areas would be a giant bunker of reinforced concrete, a harshly square example of minimalist architecture, the Conference Center is in fact a beautiful structure, littered with trees and other decorative vegetation. The inside is even more beautiful, and surprisingly more spacious than one would even expect looking at its outer walls. Around the same time the Conference Center was built, the LDS church replaced a section of Main Street with a walkway full of flower gardens, fountains and statues. Every year for as long as I can remember, the LDS church has decorated Temple Square with Christmas lights, and scores of visitors flock to the area to see them. The Main Street plaza and the church office buildings to the east are also decorated with lights, and visitors can now walk freely amongst all of it without having to wait for lights and risk crossing what can frequently be heavy traffic.
Yes, the LDS church knows what they're doing with it comes to things like this. Whatever they do in this project will be a sight to behold. In my short lifetime alone, Salt Lake has shifted from an old, dirty collection of buildings that some may call ugly, to a modern, clean, and undeniably beautiful area. Somebody around here knows what they're doing, and I think I'm going to have to be content to let them keep doing it. I'm entirely convinced it isn't Mayor Rocky Anderson. Somebody with a lot more vision has been following a more straight and narrow path, and I hope they never stop.