A frustrated Council wants action on the vacant Fleet Block

Google Earth view of the Fleet Block in the Granary District.

For years Salt Lake City officials have viewed the Fleet Block, the large city block bounded by 800 and 900 South and 300 and 400 West, as a catalytic opportunity to redevelop the Granary District.  The city owns the bulk of the block, nearly 8 acres.  The city-owned parcels have been vacant since 2011 when they city relocated the Fleet Management Division to the 1900 West block of 500 South.

“I’ve now been hearing updates for six years on what we can do and what we should be having at the Fleet Block,” said a frustrated Councilmember, Charlie Luke.  “We’ve been talking about this for a long time.  This is a unique opportunity that we need to get moving on immediately. Please, no more updates let’s have something to actually talking about.”

Luke argued that the council has long expressed their desire to see the block developed into a mixed-use community and innovative district.

“It is such a unique opportunity to have an entire block to redevelop, which is why it has taken time and diligence to really make sure that we have a path forward that will provide the best product for our city,” said Melissa Jensen, the director of Housing and Neighborhood Development (HAND).

According to Jensen, administration changes, the block’s environmental concerns and high-cost infrastructure needs have delayed any type of development.  According to HAND staff, a new environmental report shows that much of the site’s remediation could be done by the developers but the block still needs significant infrastructure improvements.

Jensen told the council that administration plans to release a Request for Proposals (RFP) in next month for an urban design firm to evaluate the block and determine the best uses and type of zoning that would be best for the block.  City officials would then present a final plan to stakeholders by the end of the year.

“This is the beating heart of an entire RDA district,” said Councilmember Derek Kitchen. “The RDA has some great tools that we can use to help develop this parcel.  We need to have a snapshot of this Fleet Block in context of the greater neighborhood.”

Kitchen told staff that additionally, he would like to see the block developed by several different entities to ensure a diversity of development instead of one monolithic project.

Jensen noted that a vision for the neighborhood is already established in the Downtown Master Plan which the council adopted in 2016. In the Downtown Plan, officials encourage creating a mid-rise, mixed-use block that encourages the reuse of historic buildings and improves connections to other parts of the city.

Because HAND is under the Mayor’s jurisdiction, the council has limited direct control over how the Fleet Block is developed.  But the council still has some influence over the area as the city-owned parcels are currently zoned as Public Lands (PL) and the council would have to approve any rezoning of the block and any funds that would go toward infrastructure improvements.

City officials are considering utilizing a Form-Based zone which would encourage a mix of uses and scale of buildings.

“We are pretty ready to go.  We have an existing ordinance, it is all about deciding what that height is and starting to run it through the process,” said Planning Director Nick Norris.

According to Jensen, HAND staff will return to the council at the end of the year to update them on the findings from the RFP and pursue funding options.  Once the study is complete, staff would then release Requests for Qualifications (RFQ) to begin developing the parcels.

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.