HLC gives initial approval for proposed Union Pacific Hotel

The east face of the proposed Union Pacific Hotel as designed by architects, HKS Inc. Image courtesy Salt Lake City public documents.

The owners of The Gateway, a mixed-use entertainment district in downtown Salt Lake, are one step closer to converting the historic Union Pacific Depot into a hotel.  On Thursday, November 1, the Historic Landmark Commission (HLC) approved with conditions a new construction request with major additions and demolition of noncontributing structures.

Arizona-based Vestar, The Gateway’s owners, in collaboration with the Athens Group, propose building an eight-story hotel that will wrap around the west face of the historic, former train station.  As currently proposed, the project will include the renovation of the Union Pacific Depot and eight floors of new construction directly west of the Depot.  The project will add around 225 guest rooms, 26 suites, a coffee shop and over 6,700 square feet of restaurant space to The Gateway.

Under the conditions approved, Salt Lake City planning staff would need to review and approve final details relating to the new hotel, landscaping, alterations to the historic depot and any public use easements.  The developers will need to return to HLC for final approval for proposed signage, renovation of the Grand Hall and canopy designs.

The developers are required to go get HLC approvals because of the project’s impact on the historic Union Pacific Depot Building.

At eight floors, the project as designed by HKS Architects will top out at 99 feet, the same height as the Depot building.  The project is in the Gateway-Mixed Use zoning district, which allows building heights up to 75 feet. The developers are also going through the Conditional Building and Site Design Review (CBSDR) process which allows developers to build up to 120 feet with Planning Commission approval.

The exterior of three-story Union Pacific Depot will remain mostly unchanged.   The ground floor fronting 400 West will include the hotel reception, a lobby bar and the building’s two east-facing entryways.  The iconic Grand Train Hall will be preserved with the building’s south wing (formerly the home of Urban Outfitters) will be converted into a restaurant.

The depot’s second and third floors will include administrative offices, guest rooms and suites.  A boardroom and specialty bar will occupy the space above the reception and lobby bar on the second floor.

The new construction portion will contain the bulk of the hotel’s guest rooms on floors two to eight.  The ground floor will include meeting space, a junior ballroom and a fitness center.  The building will have a c-type curvature that will allow for an open courtyard to separate the new building from the historic depot building.  A coffee shop will front the courtyard and connect to the depot building. The courtyard will also open directly to the Olympic Fountain Plaza and The Gateway with a portion of the first floor opened up below a seven-story bridge that will house each floors’ suites.

Most of commission members’ concerns focused on the new hotel’s west face and ground floor entryway.  Commission members were worried that the entryway blocked views and wasn’t inviting enough.  As currently designed the entryway would be open but would be just one-story with rooms on floors two to eight.

“Make me want to go in there, make me want to move through that space,” said one commission member.

While the developers have cleared one hurdle, they will need to go before the Salt Lake City Planning Commission on November 14 for a CBSDR and will need to return to the HLC for final approval of signage, canopy and grand hall designs.

If approved, the new hotel would be one of several new additions to The Gateway as Vestar transitions it from a retail-focused, mixed-use center to a lifestyle and entertainment center.  Recursion Pharmaceuticals just opened their new 100,000-square-foot headquarters in the building that Dick’s Sporting Goods previously occupied.  The biotechnology company relocated from Research Park at the University of Utah

Recursion is one of several tech companies moving to The Gateway.  Just a few hundred yards from Recursion’s new headquarters is the new Salt Lake home of Kiln, a tech-oriented coworking and startup community that will occupy 25,000 square feet of space directly west of the Olympic Fountain Plaza.  Like Recursion, Kiln’s new space at The Gateway will open this November.

The west face of the proposed Union Pacific Hotel as designed by architects, HKS Inc. Image courtesy Salt Lake City public 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.