SALT LAKE CITY — In terms of popularity, Salt Lake City’s Temple Square is the No. 1 tourist and visitor destination in Utah. Every year, between 3 million and 5 million people visit the site.
So, how might those numbers be affected when the renovations announced by leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints begin?
Those who crunch those numbers every year aren’t overly concerned. Yes, they say, there will be some inconveniences, but in the long run, this massive redo will be a good thing.
(Temple Square) is the cultural anchor of our destination. Its importance is unrivaled in terms of things that are happening in Salt Lake.
–Scott Beck, Visit Salt Lake
"It is the cultural anchor of our destination. Its importance is unrivaled in terms of things that are happening in Salt Lake," Visit Salt Lake President and CEO Scott Beck said Friday.
In terms of a tourism magnet, Temple Square is it — right in the middle of downtown. Not many cities have such an icon. Winter or summer, millions make it a point to stop here to learn of the history and admire the architecture. For many, the holiday light display is an annual must-see.
Jay Kinghorn, associate managing director of the Utah Office of Tourism puts it this way. "We often equate it to if a traveler is going to Rome, they’re going to see Vatican City. The same way here. If somebody is coming to Salt Lake City, they need to experience Temple Square. It’s the heart and history of Salt Lake City."
But, will tourists keep coming in huge numbers when they learn of the four-year renovation of the temple and redesign of the grounds?
The good news is much of Temple Square will remain open to the public during the project, and tourism officials in Utah are extremely grateful for that.
"The way they're opening up Temple Square, making it more accessible, everything they're doing, as they say, to make the visitor experience better, we couldn't ask for a better outcome from what they announced today," Beck said. "First and foremost, we want to say thank you to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for their commitment to keeping this cultural anchor so vibrant and sustain its future."
Gov. Gary Herbert said the project will come with some dust and noise from time to time.
"There'll be some frustrations. Clearly, we’re gonna have some construction elements here, maybe closing some streets on occasion, a little harder to get around Temple Square," Herbert said. "But, I think that'll be offset by the curiosity by the people coming to Utah."
“Overall, we're not too concerned," Kinghorn said. "We know we're in pretty good hands. They’ve done a lot of good planning."
With the reduction of temple weddings starting next year, there will be fewer people coming to downtown Salt Lake, and tourism experts expect there will be some trickle-down financial effect on hotels and restaurants.
As for the Christmas light display at Temple Square, church leaders said the annual event will continue to take place throughout construction.