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LoMain Rising 

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Had I not been so busy checking my look in the vacant storefront window, I might have noticed the man in the baggy, grease-blotted coat shuffling toward me. Our eyes met about three feet short of colliding into each other on the sidewalk at 248 S. Main Street'the City Weekly offices.


I had that split-second decision to make: Me, with a reasonably full wallet and shoes that fit facing him, another of our familiar Main Street homeless guys. My brain started talking: “Do I give him money today? I already gave to another one in the parking lot. Damn. What do I do?nn

Too late. Mr. Baggy Coat, strands of wild, gray hair streaming out from his ball cap, like tentacles, threw his arms straight up in the air. He bellowed: “Where have you been all my life?!”


I laughed. Hard. He didn’t ask for change. Instead, he pivoted and walked two doors south into The Coffee Garden, where he would probably sit for a few minutes before being asked to leave when paying latté sippers began to stream in.


And that was my first official greeting on my first day at this newspaper.


I raise the image now because several hours past my deadline tonight, the Salt Lake City Council is poised to override Mayor Rocky Anderson’s veto of the sky bridge proposed for Main Street between South Temple and First South. By the time you read this, the council will almost certainly have dealt Anderson another brick to the head.


The mayor calls the bridge all that can go wrong with downtown planning. It’s a view killer (but only of Ensign Peak, supporters have said. Why, that’s barely a knoll). Worse, it will keep people off the sidewalks. And isn’t that the problem we’ve been fighting since those coffinesque malls'Crossroads and ZCMI Center'went up 25 years ago?


The sky bridge has become the symbol of something'though of what, I’m not exactly sure. Progress? Entrepreneurial obstinacy? Perhaps the future logo for Salt Lake City’s redevelopment plan, “Downtown Rising?nn

City Center developer Taubman Centers Inc., and the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce have convinced all but one of the seven city council members the sky bridge will make or break Main Street. The one holdout, Soren Simonsen, is an architect who specializes in historic preservation and restoration. He started protesting the bridge early (just weeks after his 2005 election) and often, but to no avail. Why listen to an expert whose services are all but free and at your fingertips?


The hazard in predicting a city council decision like this, of course, is either that it won’t happen or it will be delayed. Not to worry. It’s going to happen. Think back to the Main Street closure. It took years. But wheels turned. It happened.


If you visit the Website DowntownRising.com/vision/districts.php, you will find the Salt Lake Chamber’s vision for “The Soul of Our City.” With words like “nurturing,” “evolution,” “action” and “prosperity,” urban planners and PR-meisters have carved out six broad “character districts” for downtown. They are: Skyline, Temple Square, Broadway, Salt Palace, Gateway and Grand Boulevards.


Presumably, the sky bridge will span a section of the Skyline District, a place where “green parkways” will help create a “pleasant, leafy pedestrian-oriented environment.”


Except with the sky bridge in place, there really won’t be many pedestrians'leafy or not. But then, maybe that’s the idea. It strikes me every day as I walk my strip of downtown that specimens like Mr. Baggy Coat will find little acceptance in the Skyline District. In Las Vegas, sky bridges stretching across The Strip keep tourists safe and clean, untouched by street rabble and hawkers of porn mags. Security guards routinely roust homeless people from the tubes.


Which is fine by city leaders and church landlords, I guess, because there will always be Lower Main Street. Or, as I’ve taken to calling this little “character district:” LoMain.


LoMain sits approximately between First and Fifth South. It’s home to land-banking property owners like Rick Howa and Earl Holding, developers like Dell Loy Hansen, shuttered-up stores and restaurants and a few brave holdouts, including Lamb’s Grill, Sam Weller’s Bookstore, Edinburgh Castle and Vienna Bistro, who keep weathering the development storms. And even a couple of relative newcomers: KUTV 2 studios and City Weekly.


And after downtown rises, LoMain may be the last place you’ll see an accurate portrayal of city life. The unvarnished stuff. We don’t have an ad agency creating our “look.” What we do have is gritty, coffee-stained sidewalks, a busker playing Peruvian flute music, an occasional dust-up among street kids on the sidewalk and Mr. Baggy Coat, whom I fear will have no place left to go once downtown rises. You’ll only see him'as real a piece of Salt Lake City as any gleaming high rise or leafy walkway'if you venture out of the sky bridge and down to LoMain.


We’ll keep a light on for you.


More Mullen: Mullentown.com

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