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Planetarium Football 

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About a decade ago, then-Mayor Deedee Corradini called a Monday morning press conference that surprised—to say the least—members of Salt Lake City’s news media, right along with everyone else, including community planners and Olympic bid leaders. Corradini announced that Derk’s Field (renamed Franklin Quest) would move to Pioneer Park at 300 West and 300 South and that an Olympic speed skating oval would be located on the block to the east.

Jaws dropped and eyes popped, because as grand as the proposal was, the normal decision-making process was nowhere to be seen. Deedee apparently had an epiphany during an addled and sleepless night; and that was that. Needless to say, planning in a vacuum doesn’t always bear fruit and today Pioneer Park is still … well, we all know what it is. The speed skating oval materialized later in West Valley.

Flash forward: The Hansen Planetarium has been doing an excellent job resembling a football in a complicated political tug-of-war between various powerbrokers. In a move reminiscent of Corradini-style planning, some said the planetarium would go to the new Gateway commercial project going up at 400 West between North Temple and 200 South, as a plum for the Boyer Company.

Why the planetarium should be set down there under the tutelage of the Children’s Museum was the kind of question a proposed juggernaut can’t abide before launch. Among the critics of the plan was Mayor Rocky Anderson, who would like to preside over a re-birth of Main Street and Salt Lake City’s traditional downtown. That can’t happen, of course, until Gateway is completed and merchants, landlords and banks can assess the damage the new project will inflict on Main Street. Reality dictates ‘wait-and-see’—government economic development programs or not.

If there is a symbol of the battle between the traditional downtown and Gateway—which some cheekily insist, is part of downtown—it has to be the planetarium. Rocky Anderson has lobbied to keep if from landing in Gateway and now has unveiled his own magic plan to relocate it—this time on the new library block just east of the City/County Building.

The planetarium would be well suited for the site and seems to fit hand-in-glove with the library. Perhaps Anderson can marshal his forces in a flanking maneuver to impress the Salt Lake County Council in open planning discussions that the planetarium rightly belongs downtown.

But don’t count on it. The Boyer Company has yet a few aces up its sleeve. There are those who would short-circuit an open democratic process for the kind of quid pro quo that defines cronyism.

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More by Christopher Smart

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