Millcreek is building a downtown where one didn’t exist before

Long known for its tidy single-family neighborhoods and lively commercial corridors of Highland Drive and 3300 South, the city of Millcreek is ready to take significant steps towards place-making.

The city recently master-planned for a new city center. A new form-based code, requiring a minimum height of 48 feet and a maximum of 74 in the center of downtown, is set to go to Millcreek’s planning commission and city council early this fall.

The plan seeks to retrofit the area’s auto-dominated environment for walkability and public spaces. The plan and proposed zoning changes seem to enjoy significant public support.

It will face significant inertia, however, from the suburban-style Brickyard Plaza shopping center, left out of the new master plan because it resides in Salt Lake City.

Millcreek City Center area. Brickyard in grey, center-left. Image courtesy Millcreek public documents.

What’s in the plan

Millcreek’s city center master plan covers the area from 3300 South to Elgin Ave (~3010 South), Highland Drive to 1300 East.

Running along a diagonal faultline from 3300 South to Miller Avenue (~3125 South), the plan envisages Mill Park, a 200 ft wide public open space. The space takes advantage of increased setbacks required of buildings abutting the fault.

In advocating for the transformation of the area, “the city made a promise to residents,” Francis Lilly, Millcreek’s Planning + Zoning Director, told Building Salt Lake. 

Residents “wanted a place to call their own,” and the public open space at the heart of the city center is meant to take advantage of the area’s “unique urban form.” Highland Drive, which runs on a diagonal, has the potential to create triangular blocks that will add character to the project.

The core of the city center, including the Mill Park open space area, as envisioned at build-out in the plan. Image courtesy MHTN Architects and Voda Landscape + Planning.

The plan’s street typology includes boulevards (Highland Drive, 1300 East and 3300 South), neighborhood streets (east-west connectors between Highland and 1300 E.), laneways, and a woonerf, meant to appeal to pedestrians and bicyclists.

The plan asserts that “walkability is core to the notion of a city center.”

Building parking garages is seen as a way to allow people to park once and enjoy the rest of their experience on foot. 

The city center area from the northwest. Miller Avenue center-left, Harmons Grocery center-right. Photo by Luke Garrott.

Millcreek out front

Wasatch Choice 2050, the long-range plan from the Wasatch Front Regional Council (WFRC), advocates for population growth to be accommodated by mid- and high-density housing in suburban town centers. 

According to WFRC’s records, only six municipalities along the Wasatch Front – North Salt Lake, West Jordan, South Salt Lake, Clearfield, Syracuse, and Millcreek – have town center plans completed or in process.

From Millcreek’s draft zoning and urban design ordinance. Brickyard is center-left.

Millcreek has moved with alacrity since its incorporation as a city in late 2016. Their downtown plan is adopted and a zoning overlay is ready for legislative consideration.

The city has activated a Community Redevelopment Area (CRA) south of 3300 South in the city center’s “Market Place” southern zone. This district includes the Home Depot on Highland and extends west along 3300 South.

There is also an Opportunity Zone extending north of 3300 South.

Planning + Zoning Director Lilly notes that the city has $20 million in bond proceeds for open space to work with. In addition to purchasing land, the city is hiring designers, putting bids on the market, and negotiating with developers (Lilly mentioned Cottonwood Residential and PEG Development). 

Lilly has been successful so far in convincing property owners eager to develop to wait for the new plan and zoning changes.

Brickyard’s long shadow

Eastern half of Brickyard Plaza looking south. Photo by Luke Garrott.

Much of Millcreek city center’s western edge is in the shadow of Brickyard Plaza, built in the late 1970s and early 1980s. With 320,000 SF of sales-tax-generating retail space, Brickyard was annexed by Salt Lake City in 1979.

Included in Salt Lake City’s Sugar House Master Plan, last updated in 2005, Brickyard’s future is “to provide a mixture of land uses that support a pedestrian orientation and transit.”

Despite a recent flap over Millcreek’s desire to annex Brickyard for itself, the cities’ planning directors both say that staff are having constructive conversations about Brickyard’s future.

A windshield view of Brickyard from 1300 East. Photo by Luke Garrott.

Owned by Yacoel Properties, based in Orange County, CA, Brickyard Plaza seems successful enough to resist redevelopment for some time. Anchored by Kohl’s department store, the mall is adjacent to a Harmons Grocery that sees heavy use from the community. 

The irony of the continued vitality of Brickyard – with its copious front-of-store free parking – is that it will continue to draw droves of people in cars to an area Millcreek City wants to be walkable.

Note: This post has been corrected to add two municipalities along the Wasatch Front which have completed a town center plan or have one in process. The previous version listed only four.

Posted by Luke Garrott

Luke Garrott, PhD, has published in The Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret News, and written features for the Salt Lake City Weekly City Guide and The West View. A former two-term councilman in Salt Lake City's District 4, he lives in Downtown Salt Lake City and grew up in the Chicago area.