The Salt Lake City metro area is frequently listed on “best of” lists, including best city for young professionals and retirees, best city to get a job, and even best city for public transportation. It’s also a favorite destination among vacationers.

Kevin Blalock, AIA, principal with Blalock & Partners Architectural Design Studio, a local firm, says that the area’s perennial appeal is related to its “location, proximity to outdoor activities, favorable ‘four season’ climate, and accessibility from other major cities.” It’s also an ideological island of sorts in a traditionally red state. “The government is progressive,” Blalock says.

Founded in 1847 by Mormon pioneers, Salt Lake is one of the oldest cities in the West. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been instrumental in local development—economic and otherwise—by putting its international headquarters here, attracting tourists to the metro area, leading faith-based philanthropy, and driving construction.

Downtown Salt Lake City is both fully developed, and in need of some updates. The Mormon Church is leading the way with the $1.5 billion, 900,000-square-foot City Creek project, scheduled to open in March 2012. This mixed-use development is the centerpiece of the city’s ongoing Downtown Rising initiative to revamp downtown with residential, retail, and restaurant space.

The 23-acre project is led by the retail developer, Taubman Co., and landowner City Creek Reserve, a private real estate subsidiary of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The project incorporates both new and remodeled office space, including a renovation of the historic First Security Building and a new office building.

“If you look at a map, SLC is not that big, and it’s full,” says Marianne Wander, AIA, project architect at the local office of FFKR Architects. “So building is happening outside the city limits proper because there isn’t room.”

Locals worry about sprawl. “As a state and a region that is growing, we need a coordinated and well-planned regional growth strategy,” says Robert Farrington Jr., economic development director for Salt Lake City. To that end, the city is expanding its three-line light-rail system.

For now, the city and county are making approvals and permitting easier for developers. LEED projects such as City Creek benefit from a streamlined permitting process that puts them at the front of the line. The city also has implemented an online process for submittal and review, which is “effective and relatively simple and efficient,” says Seth Striefel, project architect with local firm Sparano + Mooney Architecture.

That has resident architects such as Pierre Langue, AIA, design principal with Axis Architects, hopeful. “Utah has been very conservative in terms of architecture, but it is evolving,” he says. “In the past, most architectural projects were given to the same large production firms. Today, we are finding clients who demand a very high level of design that [those] firms can’t deliver.”