Mormon “mega-projects”?

Matthew Crandall has a provocative column over at Real Clear Religion on what he terms “Mormon mega-projects”: the Church Conference Center, City Creek Mall, the “I’m a Mormon” ad campaign, and the like. I haven’t quite decided yet if it’s a serious column or tongue-in-cheek.

The analysis and exposition through the first part of the column appears straightforward, at which point he sets forth his three suggestions for future mega-projects:

  • BYU-England: a metropolitan-style university aimed at providing a BYU-type experience for LDS students from Europe.
  • A “Waters of Mormon” chain of water parks.
  • A “Grand Nephite” flagship hotel in Salt Lake City.

The first idea was intriguing, though given the free or near-free college education available throughout much of Europe, I’m not sure how it would work. Beyond that, if the Church were to invest in a project like that anywhere, it would be in Latin America — and there the Church is going in the opposite direction, having just closed down its venerable high school in Mexico to convert it into a missionary training center.

The “Waters of Mormon” theme park is just too silly for words, whereas the “Grand Nephite” suggestion ignores the fact that the Church for nearly a century had a semi-luxury flagship hotel in downtown Salt Lake City — the Hotel Utah — which it closed and converted into the Joseph Smith Memorial Building. As someone who travels to Salt Lake City several times a year, I don’t think that the city needs or could support another large semi-luxury hotel. It also ignores the fact that the Church has had a decades-long trend of divesting itself for-profit businesses.

Beyond that — and aside from the City Creek investment, which was done to halt the urban decay setting in around LDS Church Headquarters and Temple Square, not for revenue purposes — the LDS Church’s financial focus is primarily outside the United States. That is where the Church’s growth is taking place and where its infrastructure needs are.

I have a good friend who works full time for LDS Church property management on a regional basis here in the United States. He says that the Church has made it clear that infrastructure spending in the US and Canada — including upgrades to existing chapels and buildings, as well as construction of new buildings — will be held to a minimum in order to use that money elsewhere in the world.

In other words, if we see any future “mega-projects”, they are far more likely to be outside the US, and they will likely be tied closely to the Church’s mission statement: proclaim the gospel, perfect the saints, redeem the dead, care for the poor and needy. No universities, no hotels, and certainly no water parks.

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