New proposal calls for closing portion of Rio Grande Street to through traffic

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SALT LAKE CITY -- In the Rio Grande District, Salt Lake City is facing a balancing act, one that helps both business and the homeless.

It’s a task that hasn’t been easy. In just the last year, the city has ramped up police patrols and established a special commission to come up with a plan.

Wednesday, a new voice entered the debate.

“We don’t want a bigger shelter somewhere else,” said Bill Tibbitts, associate director of the Crossroads Urban Center.

The center announced plans for a new proposal they believe could address all the issues in the neighborhood. It called for the city to shut down a portion of the Rio Grande Street, where the Road Home is located, in hopes of keeping out criminals who prey on those utilizing services.

“The city needs to take this bigger step and close down the street to through traffic,” Tibbitts said.

In conjunction with that, they want to use a $30 million city bond to build more homeless housing over the next 10 years. The bond, explained Tibbitts, would be the city’s share of the cost, while other funding would come from the county, state and private interests.

“We want to keep an emergency shelter in a central location that everyone can get to,” Tibbitts said. “You don’t want to do something that accidentally or unintentionally leads to more people sleeping outside.”

More details of the plan are scheduled to be announced Thursday morning. However, it already is receiving some pushback.

“I think that is an idiotic idea,” said Pete Henderson, owner of the Rio Grande Café.

Since 1981, Henderson has operated his restaurant just down the street from the shelter. Over the last five years, his customer base has decreased by approximately 40 percent, a number he attributes to the increased crime rate and overcrowding at the shelter.

“There is a mall down the street with 100-plus stores that are suffering,” Henderson said. “That kind of proposal doesn’t give any consideration to the business people who actually make this neighborhood work.”

The plan was sent to the campaigns of Mayor Ralph Becker and Jackie Biskupski, who is challenging Becker in the race for Salt Lake City Mayor.

While Biskupski’s staff said they had not had time to fully review the proposal, Becker’s campaign said they were awaiting a decision from the Homeless Services Site Evaluation Commission. The commission was created to decide whether or not the shelter should be moved to a new location.

“I’m sure the Mayor will be happy to look over and consider this project or forward it on to the group for consideration, but those groups have been working on their collective impact kind of strategy for over a year, and we should let them finish it,” said Matt Lyons, spokesperson for Becker for Mayor.

A decision from the commission is expected by the end of the year.

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