The importance of history cannot be understated and offers numerous reasons to save the the original tabernacle foundation in its current location. But I believe the strongest argument for preservation is ultimately economic.
Though this topic previously came up in this post, I want to return to the discussion because I suspect that interest in preservation is limited and perhaps even misunderstood by the population at large.
To begin, the economic justification for saving the original tabernacle ruins can be broken down into two categories: long-term gains and short-term expenses.
First, the long-term gains. At the risk of sounding crass, the original tabernacle foundation ruins have already become a “tourist attraction.” And the point of any tourist attraction — be it a major museum or a road-side trap — is at least in part to generate economic growth.
The foundation ruins have already generated some growth by employing independent contractors and, most significantly as we look forward, by directing visitors into surrounding businesses. If preserved, that effect would continue and increase, especially as downtown traffic increases.
Unfortunately, plans to move the ruins fail to capitalize on this economic opportunity because the proposed destinations have little surrounding commerce and lie well outside the destination zone for non-local visitors. In the end, there is actually very little long-term economic justification for preserving the ruins at any location outside downtown (though, of course, there are historic and spiritual justifications that I find compelling).
The second economic justification for preserving the foundation ruins at their current location is that doing so would be cheaper for everyone, especially taxpayers, in the short term.
Consider: if the LDS Church donates the foundation stones to the city, tax payers will foot the bill for moving and reconstructing a Mormon historic monument. This process will be expensive and will likely have a very small return on investment for the reasons mentioned above.
Leaving the ruins on church property, however, would mean spending only minimal resources to turn it into a small attraction and would cost taxpayers nothing because the site lies on LDS Church property.
The church can obviously decline and simply abandon preservation plans, but my point is that Provo Mormons should make it clear they value the site for at least the economic reasons mentioned above.
In any case, the total cost of retrofitting the site for visitors would be cheaper than moving it and reconstructing it. Even if the church didn’t foot the bill, taxpayers would be better served by paying to have it left in place (though that may not be possible given potential property ownership and church-state issues).
However, all of this is merely to point out that current proposals mix the absolute lowest return on investment with the absolute most expensive implementation. That should outrage both taxpayers — who will be spending now and losing money later — as well as Mormon tithe payers, who have already paid to have the site excavated.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, history itself is a good reason to save something. The Roman Forum lay forgotten and covered under meters of sediment for hundreds of years. Cows literally grazed on top of it. But one day someone rediscovered it, thought it was worth saving, and today it’s one of the most meaningful “tourist attractions” in the western world.
But while the significance of history may be subjective, the realities of economics are cold and impartial. For those who already favor preservation, economics offers a rational and timely argument against naysayers. For everyone else, economics demonstrates why this issue matters.