South Salt Lake’s “downtown” has been a bust so far. Its new transit station areas plan aims to change that.

If a big-box retail, car dealerships, and drive-thru fast food meet your expectations of a downtown, then South Salt Lake is the place to be.

The small and underfunded municipality hemmed in by major transportation corridors has recently stated its intentions to remake itself. To create a place out of what it currently is – no place in particular.

While successfully providing lower-rent spaces for a number of small local businesses—its notable cluster of breweries comes to mind—South Salt Lake’s downtown zoning district has failed to deliver downtown-style development. Instead, the city has continued to permit auto-centric uses in its aspirational core.

In addition, South Salt Lake (SSL) has refused to invest in urbanist projects like its segment of the S-Line linear park, which dies between 500 East and 200 West when it enters South Salt Lake boundaries.

South Salt Lake hosts only a bare concrete path of the unfinished Parleys Trail, which unceremoniously ends at West Temple, only a block away from the Central Pointe TRAX station at 200 West.

That station’s dysfunction—inaccessible from the north and south, and barely from the east—has had urban design and transit advocates up in arms for years.

The first step in making Central Pointe work, and providing support for nearby transit-oriented development, is the new station area plan for the 200 West TRAX and the Main Street S-Line stops.

It surfaced at the South Salt Lake City Council this week, catching the attention of local urbanists. Let’s take a look.

Plan genesis, context

Thanks to Utah State legislative action in 2022 and 2023, all municipalities with fixed-guideway transit stations have to master plan around them. Goals called out in state code include “increasing the availability and affordability of housing, including moderate income housing; promoting sustainable environmental conditions; enhancing access to opportunities; and increasing transportation choices and connections” (UT 10-9a-403.1)

Some municipalities are embracing the opportunity, not the least because planning funds are available through the Wasatch Front Regional Council (WFRC) and development money can be generated by a new state-created TIF financing tool, the Housing and Transportation Reinvestment Zone (HTRZ).

Images courtesy Arcadis and South Salt Lake

Both Salt Lake City and South Salt Lake received approval from the state in December for a HTRZ. Salt Lake City’s centers on the 900 S TRAX station in Central 9th, while South Salt Lake’s overlays its transit master plan area. The cities will now be able to use a portion of the increased property tax increment to reimburse developers for the increased cost for land, infrastructure provision, and any affordable units they provide (there’s a requirement that at least 10% of new units are at 80% AMI).

The zones are initially established for 15 years, with the option to be renewed for another 15.

While a handful of developments have been built near TRAX and the S-Line in South Salt Lake so far, the place is about to take off.

There are an eye-popping 5,125 housing units currently in the city’s development pipeline, according to its HTRZ application. Let’s take a look at what the city hopes to offer all those new residents.

Plan Description

The city’s design consultants, Arcadis (formerly IBI), along with the city’s Director of Community and Economic Development, Jonathan Weidenhamer, presented the station areas plan to the city council this week.

Weidenhamer told us that the plan is intended to “state our values and goals to our neighbors and our taxing entity partners” [who will have to forgo their tax increment during the HTRZ’s existence].

He calls the plan “conceptual storytelling, so our partners and neighbors can see our intentions as our downtown redevelops.”

Those intentions include a wholesale redesign of the three-block corridor between the two transit stations, adding significant green- and plaza space, while filling in current vacant lots with housing.

Arcadis has provisionally name the plan “South Salt Lake Downtown Connect.”

Public spaces and streets

At first blush, the plan’s public plazas and green spaces grab the eye’s attention.

Tess Tanner, Landscape Designer for Arcadis, told the SSL city council “we tried very hard to finesse our open space plan, encouraging people to walk through the whole of downtown.”

Plazas at each transit stop are accompanied by significant foliage and street furniture. Tanner noted “the plazas may be destinations in themselves if they are beautiful.”

Images courtesy Arcadis and South Salt Lake

In addition, new streets and greenery along existing rights-of-way are proposed.

Connections across the TRAX line at Utopia Avenue, Parleys Trail, and Commonwealth Avenue are also added. In addition, construction of Haven Avenue as a “signature tree-lined boulevard” stands out.

Image courtesy Arcadis and South South Lake

Jordan Swain, Urban Designer with Arcadis, explained that Main Street is “an interesting challenge. We tried to create a section where pedestrians have increased access, a friendly Main Street, but also accommodate existing businesses with parking.”

Ignoring the existence of bike lanes on Main to the north and south (in SLC and Millcreek), Swain doubled down on SSL’s downtown master plan to keep Main pretty much as it is. “West Temple is the bike route. It will have a connection to the Central Pointe Station through Utopia.”

There’s good news for 300 West. Swain stated that the plan “adds enhanced transportation alternatives, matching what Salt Lake City has done to the north.” SLC recently rebuilt 300 West from 2100 South to 900 South, adding an off-street multi-use path, landscaping, and various safety features.

Implementation: if you set the table, will partners take a seat?

The HTRZ incentives already seem to be tilting the scales, as SSL officials claim to have stacked up over 5000 living units proposed for the TIF zone.

Planners told the public that they conducted a charrette with property owners and developers focused on the Central Pointe Station.

UTA planners also worked closely with the Arcadis team and South Salt Lake, Director Weidenhamer told us.

He also mentioned “high-level” meetings with other UTA departments, and name-checked Wasatch Front Regional Council as a planning partner.

Yet the question of funding partners for the major transformation of streetscapes and transit stations is yet to be posed.

Central Pointe living up to its name

Importantly, the plan suggests a fundamental reconfiguration of the Central Pointe TRAX station. It includes adjacent retail space and abundantly-shaded public plazas.

It also intimates the necessary moving of existing tracks and platforms, adding access to S-Line vehicles and passengers, and opening three new east-west connections across the TRAX line.

Images courtesy Arcadis and South Salt Lake

UTA Operations department may resist the necessary interruptions in the rail system’s trunk line that the station’s reconfiguration would require.

Because of its scale and need for cross-agency cooperation, the Central Pointe redesign and reconstruction will also likely need to land on the long-range infrastructure plans of UTA and WFRC.

As to streetscapes and plazas, Weidenhamer noted that linking the two stations with green- and public space will be funded in part by the portion of the tax increment that goes to the city. “Of the HTRZ’s $80 million budget, half of that goes into public improvements,” he told us.

Images courtesy Arcadis and South South Lake

The city is likely also to extract reasonable impact fees and other concessions from adjacent developers for the design and construction of pocket plazas and other publicly-accessible spaces.

As to a timeline? At this point, the best guess may be a 30-year horizon, given the limit of the TIF collection period. South Salt Lake may just have enough development opportunities to keep it cooking for that long. Good thing it has a plan to lead that transformation.

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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.