Opening of renovated building 'a great day'

President Gordon B. Hinckley called the opening of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building a "great day" in the Salt Lake City community as he addressed about two dozen media representatives and others during a June 25 briefing in the building's ornate lobby.

"The opening represents a tremendous amount of work which has occurred here over the past three years," said President Hinckley, first counselor in the First Presidency. " . . . We regard this building and this obvious historic location as a tremendous piece of the inheritance of this community, the heritage of this community. This site was once the site of the tithing yard of the Church, where in pioneer days people brought produce in payment of their tithing. That produce was used to take care of the needs of the poor. Later this became the site of the Deseret News, the newspaper established in June of 1850 which is still operating as a metropolitan newspaper."President Hinckley addressed the media for about 20 minutes at the briefing, also attended by President Thomas S. Monson, second counselor in the First Presidency; Presiding Bishop Robert D. Hales and his first counselor, Bishop H. David Burton; and others involved in the renovation.

Bruce L. Olsen, managing director of Church Public Affairs, welcomed the assembled media before introducing Church leaders and turning the time to President Hinckley, who fielded questions following his remarks.

As he spoke, President Hinckley did some verbal "reconstruction," recounting the history of the building and unfolding the sequence of events that led to the renovation and decision to name the former Hotel Utah the Joseph Smith Memorial Building.

"As you are all aware, the decision was made in 1987 that we would close the Hotel Utah as of Aug. 31 of that year," he explained. "There were many who objected to that closure. We were faced with a very difficult decision. The building was old; it had been in continuous service since 1911, when it was first opened, and needed very extensive renovation work. The seismic code has been strengthened substantially over the past few years, and many other features of the building needed major attention. . . .

"We felt there was no need to continue using this building as a hotel in terms of the other [first-class hotelT facilities which were operated by chains as well as independent operators. The question was, what to do with this building.

"It could have been razed and the land converted to other uses; another building could have been built on the site. But we felt that this was a treasure of such tremendous value to the community that we determined we would preserve it as a community treasure, maintaining the distinctive beauty of the exterior and restoring the beauty of the interior, particularly this magnificent lobby in which we meet today.

"It was determined that we would continue to make available for public use some of the areas of the building, and at the same time accommodate the needs of the growing Church."

In addition to discussing the building's public areas and the Church departments it will house, President Hinckley explained the other roles the renovated building will fill, including providing family history research space, providing a chapel and meeting rooms for three downtown Church units, and serving with its theater and film "Legacy" as an adjunct to Temple Square.

He said the overriding consideration in affixing the Prophet Joseph's name to the facility was the desire to "pay tribute to the name of Joseph Smith."

Responding to questions from the media, President Hinckley turned and asked the project architect and general contractor how long it would take to completely finish the building: "About a month," they said.

When asked how many Church employees would work in the building he quipped, "I hope all of them."

He then asked Bishop Hales to respond to that question. The Presiding Bishop said between 200 and 300 would be required to operate the building, depending on the food-service demands at various times.

Bishop Hales also noted that the majority of the $42 million cost of renovation went into seismic upgrades. "Every supporting beam underneath this facility was raised one-sixteenth of an inch. We literally propped this building up and put in a whole new foundation."

Seven reinforced concrete shear walls were added for seismic stability.

"This building is literally a state-of-the-art facility which will be here 100 years from now," Bishop Hales added. "It is a memorial to the Prophet Joseph Smith that will be here for many generations."

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