Commission, developers talk street level for Sugar House project

Rendering of the south face of the proposed Shopko Block development. Image courtesy Salt Lake City planning documents.

The proposed redevelopment of the site of the former Shopko in Sugar House is large, consisting of three separate buildings at or near 100 feet in height on nearly nine acres near the heart of the iconic neighborhood.  Yet, while most issues surrounding new development revolve around height concerns,  during Wednesday’s work session between the project’s developers and members of the Salt Lake City Planning Commission, it was the plans for the project’s street level that attracted the most scrutiny.

“What was foremost to us as we looked at that site was how do we create something that is better density and better use… that creates walkability and traffic flow through Stringham,” said Colby Durnin founder and CEO of Sentinel Development, the developers of the Shopko project.

Durnin and his development team propose replacing the former Shopko department store and large surface parking lot with a mixed-used project that will include residential units, commercial office space, an outpatient medical clinic and retail space.  The project would also add a new street, Stringham Avenue, and a bikeway along Ashton Avenue.   Both throughways will add east to west connections between Highland Drive and 1300 East on the 2200 block of Sugar House.

Wednesday’s work session was in preparation for a formal hearing before the commission next month.

The site plan for the redevelopment of the Shopko Block. Image courtesy Salt Lakek City planning documents.

Because of the size of the project, the developers will need commission approval through the Conditional Building and Site Design Review process.  In addition, the developers will need planned development approval because they are requesting exemptions from the freeway landscaping requirement to accommodate a bikeway and a reduction of the required ground floor uses along Stringham Avenue.

The project’s three buildings (referred to as Buildings A, B and C) will vary in height and uses. Building A would front Stringham Avenue near the street’s intersection with Highland Drive.  Building A will be a five-story commercial office building that will include an outpatient medical clinic run by the University of Utah.  The building will occupy the eastern edge of the project area near 1300 East.

Building B will be a six-story commercial office building that will occupy the middle of the project area and will sit atop a parking podium with a significant setback from Stringham Avenue.  Both Building B and Building C will share a parking podium with 1,200 parking stalls.  The podium’s top level will be mostly a surface parking lot but will include a plaza, valet parking and patient drop-off for visitors to the medical clinic.

Building A will be a seven-story mixed-used residential building with around 180 residential units and ground floor retail along Stringham Avenue.

During the work session, planning staff expressed concerns with the pedestrian orientation of the development and the lack of ground floor uses along large portions of Stringham Avenue.

According to the project’s architect, David Dixon, the developers will include three landscaped medians along Stringham Avenue, the largest of which will include a small plaza and clock tower connected to the central walkway connecting the project to the adjacent Sugar House Shopping Center.

“My goal was to create a street, unlike any other street that probably exists in Sugar House or maybe even in Salt Lake, that’s wide, handles the traffic flow, nicely landscaped, has a lot of uses and visual appeal,” said Dixon.

Rendering of the podium boxes proposed for the Shopko Block development. Image courtesy Salt Lake City planning documents.

In response to comments on the lack of street engagement on Stringham, Dixon told commission members that the developers plan to add a second entrance to the medical building, a pharmacy and deli on Stringham.  The developers also plan to expand the sidewalk to include a small pedestrian plaza separating the medical building from the street.

The developers plan on reserving 40 percent of the project’s frontage on Stringham for retail.  The remaining frontage will include the entrances to the parking podium and window/podium boxes at the ground level of the podium.  The boxes would have a depth of four feet and a width of around 10 feet and would be geared for retail type window displays.  Durnin argued that his company has had previous success with the window/podium boxes, alluding to several historical renovations his company has completed in the Pearl District in Portland Oregon that utilize the boxes instead of ground floor retail space.

The developers also defended the project’s reduced retail offerings, arguing that the adjacent Sugar House Shopping Center would suffer if more retail was added to the area.

Commission member Matt Lyon suggested that the developers increase the depth of the podium boxes that would allow them to be used as gallery space that would allow people to wander and linger in the area.

Other commission members suggested the boxes could be deepened instead of widened similar to the retail spaces in the Salt Lake City Main Library and could serve as incubator spaces or eclectic retail spaces that hearken back to Sugar House’s retail history on Highland Drive and 2100 South.

While most of the work session focused on the street level, planning staff and commission members expressed concern for Building B’s orientation toward the parking structure instead of the street level.

In response to concerns about the location of Building B, the center building in the project, Dixon argued that the building needs to be set back to allow for valet parking and wayfinding required by the University of Utah and to ensure that each building has 360-degree views.   Dixon emphasized that the surface parking wouldn’t be seen from the street level.

Several commission members expressed a desire to see a more bold design in future meetings, describing the current design as suburban and orientated toward the freeway.

“Something that makes Sugar House, Sugar House is its eclectic uniqueness,” said commission member Weston Clark.  “Be daring and do something unique.  People long for that unique character in Sugar House.”

Rendering of the proposed clock tower and median plaza on Stringham Avenue. Image courtesy Salt Lake City planning documents.
Rendering of a proposed plaza to sit atop the parking podium. Image courtesy Salt Lake City planning documents.
Rendering of a proposed plaza to sit atop the parking podium. Image courtesy Salt Lake City planning documents.
Rendering of the ground floor retail proposed for Stringham Avenue. Image courtesy Salt Lake City planning documents.

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