City hopes Station Center will set the standard for urban development

Image courtesy of the RDA.
Image courtesy of the RDA.

Residents in the Salt Lake region wanting a car-free lifestyle in a walkable neighborhood have limited options.  The region’s expanded rail network has yet to produce significant, walkable urban neighborhoods that aren’t still car reliant.

Salt Lake City, through its Redevelopment Agency, hopes to provide the regional model for walkable, pedestrian-focused development built around transit through its recently unveiled redevelopment project, Station Center.  The city officially presented its plans and request for qualifications (RFQ) Thursday morning for the first phase of the Station Center development in front of the Rio Grand Depot.  Station Center will be a walkable, mixed-used neighborhood encompassing the area between the Utah Transit Authority’s Intermodal Hub and the Rio Grand Depot.

The Depot District, the neighborhood surrounding the Rio Grand Depot, provides more transit access than any other neighborhood in the state of Utah.  Residents living in Station Center will have unprecedented transit access to the Salt Lake region.  The Intermodal Hub is the terminus for the FrontRunner commuter rail line, the Blue TRAX light rail line, 14 bus routes (including three high-frequency routes) and a GREENbike station.

The five parcels offered for development in the first phase of the Station Center project.
The five parcels offered for development in the first phase of the Station Center project.

“We have a regional transit system that is the envy of this country,” said DJ Baxter, the Executive Director of the RDA.  “If anybody wants to live in Salt Lake City without having to own a car or without having to use it very often, this (Station Center) will be the place to do it.”

In the last four years, the Utah Transit Authority has added over 70 miles of new track.  Since 2011, the region has welcomed a commuter rail line, providing north and south connections to Salt Lake City from Provo to Ogden, and two new light rail lines connecting downtown to the airport and the western and southwestern suburbs.

Unlike the Gateway, another RDA project that takes up three city blocks, Station Center will be broken up into five different sites allowing for more project diversity as each site is developed individually.  The parcels being offered for development are focused around 300 South and Market Street between 500 and 600 West.

The first phase of Station Center could potentially include 500 apartments, 575,000 square feet of office space and 64,000 square feet of retail.  The buildings are zoned to allow a height of up to nine floors.

The RDA is continuing its focus on the pedestrian experience and breaking up Salt Lake’s large blocks with mid-block connections.  Station Center will focus on street engagement by including active storefronts, mixed-used office and residential with ground floor retail and several pedestrian walkways and plazas.  The city will also narrow 300 South, which is slated to become a festival street modeled after Fillmore Plaza in Denver.

“The pedestrian is the most important customer to serve,” said Baxter.  “These buildings will need to be built for people; for all of us, every trip we start and finish is as a pedestrian.”

There is a growing local interest in living close to mass transit.  Over 700 residential units have opened or are under construction within a block of the North Temple TRAX and FrontRunner station, since that station opened two years ago.

In Sugar House, over 600 residential units were built in close proximity to the S-Line streetcar terminus since the line opened in December of 2013.

Station Center infrastructure phases.
Station Center infrastructure phases.

Millennials are more inclined than the general population toward alternative forms of transportation.   According to a 2013 report by U.S. PIRG Educational Fund and the Frontier Group, less than 70 percent of Americans between 16-24 have a drivers license, the lowest level in 50 years.

Americans as a whole are driving less than in previous decades, but among Millennials the changes been more pronounced.   According to the same report, “Young people aged 16 to 34 drove 23 percent fewer miles on average in 2009 than they did in 2001.”

“As we see Millennials moving back into the city and we see a greater desire for people to live and function in urban centers without a vehicle; this (Station Center) is the place where they are going to want to live,” said Councilman Stan Penfold.

Developers have until May 15, 2015 to submit proposals, with developer selection over the summer.  The RDA will start infrastructure improvements next summer.

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Posted by Isaac Riddle

Isaac Riddle grew up just outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. He has a BA in English literature from the University of Utah and a Masters of Journalism from Temple University. Isaac has written for Next City, The Philadelphia Public School Notebook and Salt Lake City Weekly. Before embarking on a career in journalism, Isaac taught High School English in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia. Isaac is the founder of Building Salt Lake and can be reached at isaac@buildingsaltlake.com.