LDS Church donates building and 2.5 acres in Central City to affordable housing nonprofit

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A nonprofit group affiliated with one of the biggest homebuilders in Utah has acquired a building from the LDS Church, along with the nearly 2.5 acres it sits on in Salt Lake City’s Central City neighborhood, Building Salt Lake has learned.

Documents filed with Salt Lake County show the church and Ivory Innovations, which is focused on solving issues of housing affordability, entered into a donation agreement on Dec. 5, 2022. Such an agreement typically indicates a donation or a gift to a charitable organization.

The transaction marks the beginning of the next chapter in the years-long question of what will happen with the site at 707 S. 400 E., though details still remain scarce for what will happen to the building and vacant land surrounding it.

A representative from Ivory Innovations didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday. 

Documents filed with the county show Ivory is now the owner of the building and surrounding land, which sits on one 2.2-acre property and an adjacent 0.2-acre property.

The land is zoned RMF-35, which would allow for moderate density housing in the mixed-use, urban neighborhood that includes portions of Downtown. With over 100,000 square feet to work with, the nonprofit could easily move to build housing by-right. It could also attempt to rezone the property, perhaps to RMF-30, which was recently made more logical and flexible for development.

Given Ivory is focused on housing solutions, the site will likely be redeveloped.

Regardless of what happens with the vacant land, it appears likely the recreation center will stay put.

A Deseret News clip from July 6, 1950, when LDS leaders broke ground on the Liberty-Wells Recreation Center. Too bad there wasn’t a car crisis for the auto industry at the time.

The building is perhaps the namesake of the Liberty Wells neighborhood, despite sitting solidly within the modern Central City neighborhood boundaries. Leaders from the Liberty stake and the Wells stake to the south teamed up in 1950 to oversee construction of the building on the corner of 700 S. 400 E.

It was used for basketball games and dances in a bygone era but recently has been sitting vacant. It had been rumored to be a site for a potential homeless resource center of some kind, a rumor that never materialized.

Unlike the Wells Ward in the Liberty Wells neighborhood to the south, the church apparently won’t require the new owner to demolish the structure it passed on to Ivory.

It did, however, require Ivory to agree to a handful of stipulations, according to documents of the transfer of ownership.

If the recreation center remains on the property, it can never be used for any business or activity related to making, storing, selling or consuming alcohol, tobacco or drugs, according to a special warranty deed filed with the county on Feb. 15.

The property also can’t be used to make, store, show, rent or otherwise transmit “any material, regardless of form or medium, having…morally offensive content appealing to prurient interest in sex.”

Affordable housing on the way?

If the building was donated, it would represent a windfall for a group focused on housing affordability.

The assessed value is $1.3 million, according to county documents. Though 2.5 acres of largely vacant land that allows for multifamily construction would likely sell for much more.

Ivory largely encourages innovation around housing affordability through grants, awards, events and partnerships. The group says it has the ability to scale projects by partnering with its for-profit affiliate, Ivory Homes.

It will face a neighborhood that’s welcoming of activity at the long-vacant site, yet forthcoming about what it would like to see built.

In a statement shared with Building Salt Lake, neighborhood leaders said they were excited about the change of ownership and made suggestions they’d like to see from the new owner.

“We are excited to welcome Ivory Innovations to the neighborhood and we look forward to working with them to develop a thoughtful design that makes sense for our unique community,” said Rhianna Riggs, chair of the Central City Community Council.

The group said it hopes Ivory retains the recreation center, perhaps retrofitting it into loft apartments and neighborhood retail space.

Riggs noted the need for family-sized and for-sale homes in the area, pointing out the local elementary school is at just 26 percent capacity, and the neighborhood is about 80 percent renter-occupied.

“Three-bedroom townhomes would be a great housing option in this location,” Riggs said. “A healthy neighborhood has a balance of rental and owner-occupied housing.”

The site is directly across 400 East from low-income housing at the River Rock Apartments, in an area filled with pockets of subsidized housing and with a nearby household median income of about $28,000.

“Studies show countless negative effects of concentrating poverty,” Riggs said, “we should not continue to do so.”

Indeed, a map of affordable housing in Salt Lake City shows Central City is home to a significant amount of low-income housing (while virtually everywhere east of 700 East is home to virtually none).

The church kept the subterranean rights, as it typically does when selling its property, which includes water and possible minerals.

The church retained the first right of refusal to buy the property back should Ivory want to sell it in the future, according to the documents.

Email Taylor Anderson

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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.