Under pressure from lawmaker, Biskupski closes Rio Grande Street to traffic

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

FILE – Police presence in the Rio Grande area has forced many of the homeless out in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2017.

SALT LAKE CITY — After three days of conflict over a timeline for shutting down a section of Rio Grande Street to create a “safe space” for people seeking homeless services, House Speaker Greg Hughes and Mayor Jackie Biskupski stood side by side Thursday to announce a decision.

The two officials said Rio Grande Street — from 200 South to the mid-block property lines of Catholic Community Services and the Road Home — will be temporarily closed to vehicle traffic beginning Friday.

Though the partial closure didn’t quell all of Hughes’ concerns — wanting a full closure to the general public “yesterday” — the speaker called Thursday’s move “critical.”

“As we see this holiday weekend coming forward, I do think it’s going to thwart the drug dealers and the drug traffickers to see that that road is no longer the ‘McDonald’s drive-thru’ for drug dealers,” Hughes said.

City officials launched an online survey at www.slcmayor.com and scheduled a public forum for Wednesday so Biskupski can get residents’ input on a more long-term closure — until the troubled downtown shelter shutters in June 2019 — on a more expedited timeline.

“It’s been a journey, but one worth taking, and I’m very grateful for the work we’ve been able to do together to make sure that this community’s voice is heard in the process,” Biskupski said.

The public forum is tentatively scheduled to happen at the old Anthropologie building at The Gateway, 116 S. Rio Grande St., at 6 p.m. Wednesday.

Biskupski said after she receives public input, she may choose to sign a lease agreement between the city and the state as early as next Thursday so the space can begin to be transformed into a more secure area that will be closed not only to…

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