Meet the Kensington Tower, the high-rise that would join Utah’s tallest buildings in Salt Lake City’s skyline

Salt Lake City’s skyline is primed to change rapidly in the coming decade, and a Boston-based real estate development group wants to build the tallest building in it.

Kensington Tower would add luxury rental apartments at the corner of State Street and 200 South, replacing a fast-food restaurant and large parking lot with a “vertical urban community” that the developers say would fill an unmet need for high-end, luxury rentals in the capital city.

At 39 stories and over 400 feet, the Kensington Tower would inject 380 units into the core of Downtown, across from the Gallivan Center on a site that’s currently home to a fast-food restaurant.

Its lead architect and backers say they aren’t focused on the title of being the tallest building on Salt Lake’s changing skyline, just shy of the state’s tallest. Instead, they say the Kensington would fill an unmet need in Salt Lake City.

“We feel like this housing will really help Salt Lake City,” said Emir Tursic, Associate Principal and Senior Vice President at HKS Architects, the firm that’s designing the new building. 

The developers are presenting the concept as a residential development that might attract high earners who are looking for city living in the heart of downtown.

“Customer service will set it apart,” said Steve Brown, with Millcreek Consulting and Development, who’s working on the project and added Kensington would “attract and satisfy the expectations of higher-end talent” who are already moving to the region as the state continues to boom.

The building would include a fitness center, an outdoor park on the eighth floor, outdoor pool at the 22nd floor and a deck on top of the building.

Its tallest portion would front State Street and part of 200 South. Its mid-level would run east-west along 200 South, near the entrance to Plum Alley and Regent Street, which aren’t parts of this project.

“It breaks the scale of the building horizontally with communal areas,” Tursic told us, adding that the Kensington seeks to break up its height with features at the low-, mid- and high-rise levels. “High-rise living died out in the ‘80s and ‘90s. People felt isolated with no sense of community.”

The plans and proposed amenities point to a forthcoming affluent group of likely renters. At the Kensington in Boston, rent for a two-bedroom unit starts at $5,000. Studios start around $3,500.

Similar to the building in Boston, Salt Lake City’s new Kensington would include a mix of studios and one- and two-bedroom units, promising to bring hundreds of people into an area of the city that needs more residential among more dominant office and commercial uses.

Dee Brewer, executive director of the Downtown Alliance, called the Kensington concept “a welcome addition to downtown.”

“This project will allow residents of Salt Lake plus prospective out of state companies and employees the ability to live, work, shop and play in our urban core,” Brewer said. “As we see our housing stock increase, we’ll continue to see patrons in restaurants, a burgeoning night-time economy and increased vibrancy in downtown Salt Lake.” 

The number of housing units Downtown has grown by 78% since 2000, according to a recent CBRE study, yet rental vacancy rates remain low. The Downtown Alliance and CBRE have identified a need for the highest and lowest incomes.

Environmental features

The designers are exploring using a newer type of solar technology that would run vertically up the building and generate enough power to run about 40,000 square feet of the communal space within the building.

Solar can be tricky on such buildings, and the developers said rooftop solar wouldn’t generate enough power to make it worth the expense.  There’s no guarantee the project would include any renewable energy.

The building will pursue LEED Gold Certification for building and construction. It would also include shared electric vehicles and shared bikes for tenants. The building could provide features to filter the valley’s unhealthy air that’s caused primarily by cars and buildings.

Anyone looking for a burrito or burger from Carl’s Jr. should act fairly quickly. Kensington Tower proposes to take over this underutilized site Downtown to become the state’s tallest residential development. Photo by Luke Garrott.

Still, at a time when Salt Lake City is proposing getting rid of parking minimums Downtown, the Kensington would include hundreds of parking spaces in a six-story parking structure that fronts 200 South and is clad to obscure views of the parking from the street.

Tursic and Brown said that decision came after a market study found the area wasn’t ready for 0.5 stalls per unit or less. Securing financing can be difficult if banks perceive a development doesn’t have enough parking, so the Kensington proposes to include 0.72 stalls per unit, or around 270 stalls.

The parking structure is in part why the developers will need the city’s permission before building. While the part of the building that fronts 200 South will exceed the 100 feet minimum height required of corner lots Downtown, an interior portion that’s hidden from public view will be less than 100 feet, requiring approval during the design review process. 

Buildings on corner lots are also not supposed to exceed 375 feet, and the Kensington would push it above that height, to 448 feet including the elevator overrun and mechanical equipment, which will be covered.

The conceptual design would make the Kensington taller than every building in the state.

Brown said the group hopes to finish design review with the city within a few months and begin construction at the end of next year or early 2021. Construction would likely take around three years.

Correction: This post has been updated to reflect the height of the building including the elevator overrun and mechanical equipment. If those are included in the building’s height, the Kensington Tower will be the tallest building in Utah at 448 feet high.

Posted by Taylor Anderson

Taylor Anderson grew up near Chicago and made his way West to study journalism at the University of Montana. He's been a staff writer for the Chicago Tribune, Bend Bulletin and Salt Lake Tribune. A move from Portland, Oregon, to Salt Lake City opened his eyes to the importance of good urban design for building strong neighborhoods. He lives on the border of the Liberty Wells and Ballpark neighborhoods.