Historic Landmark Commission reviews Warm Springs proposal

Aerial rendering of the northwest corner of the proposed Warm Springs Development. Image courtesy Salt Lake City planning documents.

For the second time in a month, representatives from the Woodbury Corporation and Salt Lake City’s Housing and Neighborhood Development Division (HAND) have turned to the Salt Lake City Historic Landmark Commission for guidance on how to best redevelop and restore the site of the Warm Springs Plunge building on the 800 North block of 300 West.

According to Dan Rip, of Real Estate Services representing HAND, the city requested the work sessions” to work out some lingering questions on Woodbury’s current proposal before a final proposal goes before Mayor Jackie Biskupski for final approval.  The focus of the work session was on building scale, preservation of the historic Warm Springs building and the potential for new construction detracting from the original building’s prominence.

Rip told the commission that Woodbury’s proposal was one of two received and that because of the size and scope of the project, city officials drafted the request for proposal in a way that called for developers to suggest uses for the building instead of the city outlying desired uses.

“Criteria that we were looking for was the restoration of the historic structure and the capacity and capability to be able to do that.. and a use that was conducive to the neighborhood and also to help activate the Warm Springs Park,” said Rip.

The Warm Springs building, historically referred to as the Warm Springs Plunge, was built in 1921 and for over 50 years would be used as a city-run bathhouse.  The city piped in hot sulfur water from nearby hot springs into several pools in the Warm Springs building.  The city closed the baths in 1976 and in 1983 the building became the home of the Children’s Museum of Utah, until 2003 when the museum relocated to the Gateway.

Aerial rendering of the proposed Warm Springs Development. Image courtesy Salt Lake City planning documents.

Woodbury Corp wants to restore the Warm Springs building and convert it to an office building.  In addition to the adaptive reuse, the developers want to build a seven-story, 125-unit residential building directly east of the Warm Springs building and four attached townhomes directly south of the new residential building.

Representatives from Woodbury Corp told the commission members that the design of the residential building is simple so that it doesn’t pull attention away from the historic Warm Springs building.  The developers cited a lack of neighborhood buildings to establish architectural context apart from the Warm Springs building, make it imperative for them to build something that doesn’t compete with the historical structure.

The Warm Springs building will remain relatively intact with the buildings west front entrance and north and south side entrances remaining.   When restored, Woodbury reps estimate the Warm Springs building will have around 38,000 square feet of leasable commercial space.  The developers opted for a commercial use as it would allow for more flexible floor plans that complement the building’s interior spaces.  While most of the building’s interior spaces will be retained and restored, the developers plan to fill the pool areas so that they can accommodate commercial tenants.

The developers told the HLC that they plan to cater the building to small business and that there are already potential tenants that would be interested in the Warm Springs building for office space. According to the developers, there is also the potential for spillover from an adjacent office building that is currently leased out.

While the Warm Springs building will be for commercial office use, the developers are considering a small cafe that could cater to area workers, park patrons and the project’s new residents.

The residential building will consist of a two-story concrete podium and five floors of wood-framed residential units.  The units will be a mix of studio, one and two bedroom apartments.  As currently designed, the residential building will connect to the Warm Springs building via a landscaped, pedestrian plaza.  The pedestrian plaza will also connect the north and south sections of Warm Springs Park.  The current plans for the residential building include a third-floor courtyard above the parking podium with a fire pit, outdoor kitchen, bocce ball court, water feature and covered seating.

The four townhomes will each have two bedrooms and a two car garage.

The parking structure will be accessed from the north side of the project with surface parking on both the north and south ends of the Warm Springs building.

Commission members expressed concerns about the scale of the residential building, the two-story parking podium and the residential building’s interaction with the adjacent park.

“The mass is really a function of trying to create value to offset renovation costs,” said Josh Woodbury, of the Woodbury Corporation.  “We are just trying to get mass to create value.”

Woodbury told the commission that they would need to get a least 80 residential units to make the project financially viable and that even 80 units would still require a two-story parking podium.

One commission member suggested redesigning the residential building to be orientated toward the south section of Warm Springs Park, instead of the Warm Springs building, while retaining a pedestrian connection between the north and south sections of the park.  The same commission member acknowledged the challenges of the site and its relationship to the parks.

The current design is preliminary and it could be some time before any construction starts.  After the final design is approved by the Biskupski administration, the developers and HAND will need to return to the HLC for final approvals.  Furthermore, the project area is currently zoned for open space and public lands and any final proposal will require a zoning amendment to accommodate the new uses.

Rendering of the west façade of the proposed Warm Springs Development. 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 isaac@buildingsaltlake.com.