Building major projects in a city is business, even when it’s with friends. That’s why the city should drive a hard bargain when it comes to selling 100 South the the LDS Church.
This Tribune article from last week notes that the city is entering negotiations with the church to sell a section of the street for the upcoming Tabernacle Temple campus. The article doesn’t include information about the potential price of the street, but does mention what happened when Nu Skin wanted a section of nearby 100 West:
When the city vacated 100 West between Center Street and 100 South for Nu Skin Enterprises’ headquarters expansion, the city’s Redevelopment Agency paid $1.025 million for the street. The RDA gave the property to Nu Skin, and the city will recoup the money through property taxes, city spokeswoman Helen Anderson said earlier.
That public land was gifted to a private corporation — even if it was through the redevelopment agency — is frustrating because Nu Skin clearly could have afforded the property. The city may recoup the costs eventually, but that wouldn’t even have been an issue if Nu Skin had just purchased the street outright.
The LDS Church isn’t a corporation, but it is a private interest group. And to put it bluntly, what makes the Tabernacle Temple project different from the Nu Skin expansion is that the church already played its hand.
Whereas Nu Skin could have threatened to take its new facility elsewhere, the church publicly promised millions of people that it would build a temple in downtown Provo. That, as well as the uniqueness of the building, means that the church can neither back out at this point nor can it relocate the project.
All of this means that there is no economic reason to sell at a bargain, much less to give the street to the church for free. The city has the upper hand.
As I indicated at the beginning of this post, business is business, even with friends. The city should be fair with the church, but it should also keep in mind that it’s turning over an asset collectively owned by the community to a private entity. It’s also worth considering that unlike other recent LDS Church mega-projects, the completed Tabernacle Temple won’t generate jobs or any other direct economic benefits for the city. Even collateral benefits may ultimately be small. Furthermore, whatever price the city my put on 100 South will inevitably be rather paltry compared to the money spent on things like City Creek.
I don’t know where in the negotiation process the city and church are now, but if one of the goals of the community is economic vibrancy, then driving hard bargains is sometimes what must happen.