City Council’s initial question on Station Center Plan: Are we still in charge?

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They like the height. They like the goals. They like the fact that the project, at last, is moving again.

But the City Council had a few primary questions about the newly released plan for the more than 10 acres of land Salt Lake City owns in a transit-rich district on the west end of Downtown. 

“I’m struggling to understand when each piece happens, which pieces are interdependent on one another and who’s making those decisions?” Councilman Darin Mano asked during the council’s first review of a new plan for Station Center. 

Several members of the Salt Lake City Council expressed concern about the oversight they would have of the publicly owned space in an area that runs roughly between 200 South to 400 South and 600 West to 500 West. 

Urban planning consultants presented the Council — in its role as the governing board for the city’s Redevelopment Agency — with a new vision for Station Center on Tuesday.

The vision includes buildings up to 400 feet tall, transit-serving retail spaces, public plazas, artist space and public art.

Council members were curious what entities would be primarily responsible for making decisions around things like programming, public art and the countless other issues that will arise from Station Center.

Mano mentioned the Eccles Theater and the Gallivan Center as two models that are quasi-governmental, but which he feels he has no oversight on.

“I’m not sure how to influence anything that happens in those two spaces,” Mano said, “even though they’re quasi-owned by the RDA.”

The sort of activation of public and private spaces for Station Center would require coordination between public and private entities, and several members of the council expressed concerns about how that would play out.

The area has long been a missed opportunity for the city, as well as a chance to create an urban, transit-oriented district that acts as an example for the state.

Building Salt Lake first reported last week that urban planners now recommend allowing more height in the area.

The plan now recommends buildings that are up to 400 feet tall, or about 40 stories, a logical level of density given Station Center’s status as the transit entry for the city for travelers and visitors from the region and across the nation. 

It calls for liberal parking management with an eye toward less land being dedicated to storing private cars. Planners mentioned low parking minimums and even parking maximums within the district.

A shared parking structure would be placed along 400 South, and plans for sharing parking across the district.

But it’s not exactly clear who signs off on those plans, a question that Council wants answered before progressing.

Enough money for the arts

Councilman Chris Wharton and Councilwoman Victoria Petro both raised a desire to identify more money for public art than the city would typically reserve.

Typically the city sets aside up to 1.5 percent of RDA project budgets for public art. Given the scale of Station Center, Wharton suggested finding other ways to fund public art in the area.

“I would like to look for this site in particular going above and beyond the 1.5,” Wharton said. “If we’re going to have a festival street and an atmosphere that’s conducive to some of our visions of the area, we need to make a bigger investment in art.”

Preserving 400 South

Several members of the Council said they wanted to make sure the plan didn’t close off Station Center in the event that 400 South eventually becomes less of a car-choked abyss and maybe one day has a Trax line running down it near 500 West.

The plan currently calls for a shared parking garage fronting 400 South.

Don’t forget the families

Councilwoman Ana Valdemoros said she wanted to make sure the area provided amenities that help attract and retain families who are clearing out of the city.

“I want an extra oomph,” Valdemoros said. “We need to think about making this area of Downtown, almost the last piece of Downtown, a destination area. Offer a lot of options for families and other activities that we don’t have.” 

“I feel like we need to look at what other cities are offering that we can compete with so we can recapture those folks who are not coming Downtown,” she added.

Can we think about condos, please?

One thought that should be explored is how the city might use its almighty power of land use to make sure some of the newly built housing includes attainable for-sale housing.

Virtually no condos are being built in the United States today. Even townhome projects, which are typically considered single-family housing, are now being held by investors as rentals rather than sold.

Developers are intimidated by the threat of lawsuits by condo owners and HOAs over possible future defects. But that liability seems to be overcome in high-income areas. The city should explore ways to partner with developers to allow for the creation of condos in Station Center.

Email Taylor Anderson

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Posted by Taylor Anderson

Taylor Anderson grew up near Chicago and made his way West to study journalism at the University of Montana. He's been a staff writer for the Chicago Tribune, Bend Bulletin and Salt Lake Tribune. A move from Portland, Oregon, to Salt Lake City opened his eyes to the importance of good urban design for building strong neighborhoods. He lives on the border of the Liberty Wells and Ballpark neighborhoods.