Rio Renewal | News | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

Rio Renewal 

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The last time Gov. Mike Leavitt listened to the little people was—well, let’s see … The last time Gov. Mike Leavitt listened to everyday citizens and taxpayers was … There must have been a time when he actually did that, but we just can’t remember when.

In the past, when citizens have taken umbrage at the machinations of state government, Gov. Leavitt has been beyond earshot. An example of community pride that pops to mind was the state’s decision to tear down an historic house on G Street that sat next to the Governor’s Mansion on South Temple. Proud residents of the Avenues district, having saved the neighborhood one house at a time, protested the action months in advance. Community leaders brought their legislative representatives to bear in a heartfelt effort to show that demolishing the quaint house for a parking lot was a horrible idea.

Leavitt sent word through a spokesman that it simply wasn’t his decision. The state department of Facilities Construction and Management had determined to raze the structure and put down asphalt and there was nothing he could do. After all, he’s only governor.

That’s why we’re pinching ourselves here at City Weekly. Are we dreaming or has Gov. Leavitt actually listened to the little people? At this writing, we’re told the governor will offer to Rio Grande Café proprietor Pete Henderson a new five-year contract.

Those who have followed the saga will remember that the state reneged on its offer to continue to lease space to Henderson, who opened the Tex-Mex restaurant in the historic Rio Grande Depot in 1981. At that time, the neighborhood near 400 West and 200 South was a tough place to start a business. But Pete persevered and established not only a successful restaurant but also a community gathering place.

When word came during the first week of April that state Facilities Construction and Management had determined to turn the Rio Grande Café into a document archive, it left the community utterly flabbergasted. Who in the hell made that decision and how do we get it undone?

People all over Utah were heard on this one. On radio talk shows, in letters to the editor, in columns and editorials, not one person could understand why the community was going to lose a treasure because some bureaucrat wanted space for storage. The ranting was loud and long. It was so loud and so long that even Gov. Leavitt had to take notice.

One big thank you to whomever it was who explained this one to Mikey. We’re just flat-out astounded and gratified that at least once, a stupid bureaucratic decision is going to be undone. The people have spoken; the Rio has been saved. Will miracles never cease?

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