The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has erected a gate and plans to partially restrict access to the plaza it created after Salt Lake City sold a portion of Main Street to the church 25 years ago.
The new gate was installed as part of the church’s ongoing renovation of its Salt Lake Temple at Temple Square in Downtown Salt Lake City. The renovation is scheduled to be completed by 2026 and focused primarily on extensive updates and seismic retrofits.
But it’s now clear that the renovations included a revision of public access policy by the church and approved by the city.
“The gates are a part of the plaza designs and are primarily for safety and security considerations and to preserve the views of the plaza when the gate is closed,” church spokesman Doug Andersen said.
Previously, the public was permitted to access the private plaza the church manicured and maintained, viewing the historic temple across a reflection pond at the eastern entrance to the historic structure at any hour of the day.
After receiving permission from the city, a church representative said the gate will be locked and the plaza closed from 11:30 p.m. through 6:30 a.m. on a daily basis.
“The purpose for the fence, and associated gate, is to keep the plaza open to the public and be able to secure the property as necessary, including times when the property is less trafficked by pass through pedestrians,” Andersen said.
The new gate at Main Street Plaza will function the same as other gates surrounding Temple Square, Andersen said.
The mayor’s office and city attorney didn’t respond to a request for comment. The Planning Division said it needed more time to see whether and when it gave permission to the church to erect the new barricade.
Either way, previous legal battles over the privatization of the former city street between South Temple and North Temple already tied the city’s hands in the matter.
Building Salt Lake looked into the new gate after hearing from a reader who lives on Main Street near Capitol Hill, north of Downtown. The reader noted they were forced to detour a third of a mile each way when traveling to or from Downtown when the gates were closed.
“This is troubling to me because closing this block adds such additional hassle to get downtown for people in my neighborhood,” the reader said.
People walking north or south of Temple Square on Main Street during the new restricted hours will have to detour a block east or west, to State or West Temple streets.
This writer can attest that a midnight walk past the lighted temple was a worthwhile nightcap on a journey home from the part of Main Street once known as Whiskey Street, several blocks south of Temple Square.
Salt Lake City originally sold one block of Main Street between South Temple and North Temple to the LDS Church in 1999, under Mayor Deedee Corradini.
The sale sparked years of legal battles over public access and constitutional rights on the conservative church’s new and formerly public property.
In October 2002, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found visitors maintained their rights while on the plaza. Clashes ensued.
The next year, while working on a settlement agreement brokered by former Mayor Rocky Anderson between the city and the church, the City Council noted that the church, “as the private owner of the Main Street Property, would have the right to deny access to the public if it so wished.”
One requirement that remained was that the church, if it ever decided to close off access, would need to maintain a view corridor through the now-private property. Essentially, it couldn’t build more walls like it did along North and South Temple on the western portion of Temple Square. The city would be compelled to allow the installation of a new gate if the church desired to add one.
In return for the settlement, the city got land in Glendale and donations that would help build the Sorensen Center.
With the agreement, the original pedestrian easement was “closed, vacated and abandoned and declared no longer needed or available for use by the public for any purpose whatsoever, including but not limited to use as a sidewalk or as a pedestrian thoroughfare.”
For those 25 years, the plaza remained open around the clock, allowing travelers and visitors to pass by or view the temple at any hour of day.
That book has come to a close.