Don’t Get Me Started, Regulars and Shorts

Don’t Get Me Started: January 2007

By John deJong

Skybridge to Nowhere; Year of Awareness; UnReal Salt Lake Numbers.

Year of Awareness 

In biological psychology, awareness describes a human or animal’s perception and cognitive reaction to a condition or event. —Wikipedia
The last six years have shown us what happens when we lose sight of the prize, what happens when we allow our leaders to lead us rather than following us, what happens when we become unaware.

Being informed is the most powerful tool a citizen has in a democracy or a free market economy. So I challenge you and CATALYST to make 2007 the Year of Awareness. At the end of 2007, I want each of us to have the knowledge to be aware of the impact of each of our actions on politics, society and particularly the environment—not just knowing what our impact is, but changing it.

Too much misinformation

Many of us are overwhelmed with news of the inconsequential. Its only effect is to get us all riled up with no place to go. We might as well be watching the weather for all we can do about most of it.

In a free market, informed consumption has incredible power. In the era of cheap energy, it didn’t make sense to factor the energy costs of our consumption patterns. As energy becomes increasingly expensive, it will be a larger factor in everything we purchase. How many barrels of oil went into the plastic in that Lexus or Love Sac? How much energy did it take to raise and transport those roses or tulips?

Heroes of the evolution

Our energy and foreign policies are stuck in an evolutionary dead end.

The main thrust of our foreign policy for the last 50 years or longer has been focused on securing cheap oil. While the United States constitutes 5% of the world’s population, we consume (let’s be honest—we waste) a quarter of the world’s energy.

You and I can be leaders of the evolution. We are opinion leaders and first adopters. Just as a few knowledgeable members of a flock of birds or school of fish can unerringly guide a migration, with knowledge and intelligence we can lead the way to a saner future. CATALYST is dedicating the next year to giving you the information you need to become aware in everything you consume.

Skybridge to Nowhere

Promoters of City Creek Center and the proposed skybridge across Main Street would like to think of it as the Skybridge to Now Here. Their belief in revitalizing the two blocks south of the Temple and Church Office Building rivals their belief in the second coming: as in, it’s a fait acompli.

Unfortunately, the City Creek Center is doomed. The Mormon Church lost the battle when they let the ZCMI and Crossroads Malls deteriorate and Gateway was built. The retail center of Salt Lake City has moved to Gateway and won’t be back any time soon. A couple of new residential buildings, fountains, manmade streams and a full-service grocery store won’t make a significant difference. A skybridge won’t make a difference.

Much of their hype about what is needed to draw shoppers amounts to unexamined platitudes. “Shoppers need a complete Disneyfied experience.” “Gateway is a success because of the fountains and skybridges.” No. Gateway is a success because it doesn’t look like a cross between the bishop’s storehouse and a missionary clothing outlet. It’s a success because it has stores like the Apple Store, Black Chandelier and Anthropologie. Nearly every major national retailer already has a store in Gateway. What’s left for City Creek Center to attract? 7-11, Denny’s, Home Depot, Seagull Books, Lowe’s?

The last thing Main Street needs is a bridge that isn’t a bridge. Downtown is already too split up with the bifurcation between Main Street and Gateway. We don’t need Main Street split into upper and lower realms.

The skybridge will be no low-profile affair either. To clear the electrical wires for TRAX, the bottom of the structure will have to be 20 feet in the air. Even with escalators, moving between the realms will be difficult.

Six acres of open space? I’ve never been much of a fan of urban green space. If I want green, I’ll go to the mountains or walk the three blocks to the real City Creek. If I want open spaces, I’ll go wander in the desert. Neither experience has anything to do with shopping or living in a city. I don’t know where the idea that open space and trees are a retail magnet came from. Every tree the city puts on Main Street is one or two less parking places where people can’t park while they pick up a book at Sam Weller’s or their tailoring or some food to go.

What downtown needs is a lot more residential space, and if the Church and City want to revitalize downtown, they’d be better served by putting in another six acres of high-density housing. The average supermarket needs a population of 10,000 to break even. The population within grocery shlepping distance of City Creek Center is nowhere close to that, and a couple hundred upscale condos isn’t going to make the difference.

It’s ironic, a project that will ruin public views up and down Main Street prominently trumpets on its website: “In determining current and future sites for residential construction at City Creek Center, planners are working to take full advantage of view-lines to downtown landmarks and the surrounding Wasatch Mountains.” I assume that means they won’t put any residential units where the skybridge ruins the view of the mountains or the statue of Brigham Young. How thoughtful, if you’re a resident.

It’s unclear whether the sky bridge will be public property or another piece of Church property—off limits to anything the Church deems distasteful or blasphemous. No shirt, no shoes, no Temple recommend—no skybridge. And if a skybridge is so necessary to keep pedestrians from getting hit by cars or TRAX trains on Main Street, is a skybridge over South Temple to Temple Square in the works?

Since time immemorial, developers have insisted that every single feature of their grand schemes are absolutely essential and that the lack of any single feature will doom the project to failure. The mayor and City Council of Salt Lake City need to put their feet down on Main Street and reject this one unnecessary feature of City Creek Center. City Creek Center will be built, but a skybridge is not a necessary component of the project.

UnReal Salt Lake Numbers

My daddy used to say, “There are three kinds of lies — lies, damned lies and projected revenues.”

Guess which category the financial numbers Real Salt Lake released last month for their Sandy stadium fall into. If you believe that attendance will go from 9,861 to 17,000 at the same time ticket prices go from an average of $16.94 to nearly $31, you’ve just begun Gullible’s Journey.

Naming rights for $1.5 million? Denver’s major league soccer team got $2 million a year, but Denver’s media market is three or four times the size of Salt Lake’s. The hardest number for a casual observer to swallow is 20 concerts a year with an average attendance of 17,000 at $35 to $45 per ticket. I don’t think there are 20 concerts with an attendance of 17,000 between the Mississippi and the Sierra Nevadas in a given year. There certainly aren’t that many in Utah. Add in a $3 per ticket surcharge on the first 5 million tickets sold to repay the $15 million Sandy City is lending Checketts et al.—on top of a $15 million loan from Sandy and another $15 million from the county. If the stadium is sold out for 50 events a year, it’ll take six years to repay, not counting interest.

I don’t think many college and youth sports organizations are in a position to make significant contributions to the stadium’s bottom line. But hey, a couple of thousand here and a couple of thousand there, and pretty soon the interest on your loans is piling up faster than you can pay it off. So I would expect Checketts to come back to Sandy for deferment of payments on interest and principal in favor of paying off his investment partners, Goldman Sachs.

The presence of Goldman Sachs as half owners of the team reassures some. But their management of the Utah Athletic Foundation endowment, which, according to the Deseret Morning News “swelled” from $76 million in 2002 to $80 million in 2006, a rate of return of about 1.5% per year, is unimpressive. I guess management fees eat up a lot.

I don’t understand the cross promotion deal between Checketts’ KALL-AM and Real Salt Lake, but it sounds like one hand washing the other. Which in the end would be—a wash. Although if Checketts follows GAWSAP guidelines (Generally Accepted Wall Street Accounting Practices), both entities could show millions of dollars of profits.

My daddy also said there are three kinds of liars—liars, damned liars and paid consultants. If it’s any consolation, Salt Lake County has hired L.A.-based Economics Research Associates to review Real Salt Lake’s numbers. ERA specializes in undeniably plausible economic studies. Their expertise is in coming up with economic extrapolations couched in erudite verbal haze. I would be surprised if any of the thousands of reports ERA has generated for corporate entities such as Disney and Exxon didn’t endorse the project under consideration. Couched, of course, in enough ifs, ands and buts to escape any legal culpability if the project went south.

The downside for the county is that there will be a stadium on 13.6 blocks of what could be residential or commercial buildings—until the county musters the gumption to tear the stadium down.

The most important question is whether 13.6 acres and $45 million of Salt Lake County and Sandy’s money could be put to better use than a stadium that will, at best, host one event a week. That’s not exactly the kind of anchor I’d want to tie retail development to.

This article was originally published on December 31, 2006.