Unique office-to-residential conversion underway in heart of SLC’s historic districts

The construction phase has started on the renovation and repurposing of an historic office building on South Temple and 500 East, across the street from the recently-completed Hardison apartments at E Street. The project, which we briefly covered in 2018, will also add a new five-over-two residential structure and a ground-floor swimming pool along 500 East.

Office-to-residential looks to be a trend in and around Downtown. The Hines project at 136 E. South Temple and Unico repurposing the white monolith at 205 E. 200 South are notable examples.

The pre-construction challenges of the project at 508 E. South Temple were many – designing residential units around a 1949 floorplate, uncovering over 70 years of history while demolishing, and negotiating the city’s review process (including the Historic Landmarks Commission). Most of that process was successfully undertaken by ICO (Ivory Commercial), who sold the construction-ready project to The Ritchie Group in 2022.

Photos by Luke Garrott.

We talked to the construction manager with Ritchie, Scott Laneri, and sifted through the impressive planning staff report done in 2017. ICO was proposing demolition of its parking garage (built 1957, where the new structure is being built), new construction in an historic district, and special exceptions for setback reductions. Here are some highlights.

Story of the original building

The building was constructed in 1949-50 as the Medical Dental Building, and heralded by the Salt Lake Tribune (6/9/1951) as earthquake and fireproof due to its “pattern of steel girders in a cube grid of 18 ft. squares tied together with reinforced steel and concrete. This type of structure was found standing intact in centers of the atomic bomb blast areas in Japan.”

Ritchie Group’s Scott Laneri agrees – “it was cutting edge at the time, and it’s held up well.”

The property was developed by Doxey and Layton, well-known realtors and developers at the time, and designed by Arthur Farr, architect.

Historical exterior details of the building. Photos from historical survey done in 2006.

It’s been used mainly as medical offices (a coffee shop was originally in the basement and an apothecary on the 1st floor) with an interlude of Utah Retirement Systems occupying it in the 1980s.

The building aimed to include the features desired by medical professionals at the time: “adequate parking spaces, air conditioning, self-leveling elevators and rooms that were illuminated by daylight.”

Outline of current project

Included in the Central City and South Temple local historic districts, alterations to the exterior of the building are verboten. Window types and other exterior details are to be reproduced as they were on the original structure, which the 2006 city historical survey calls Mid-century modern.

Laneri told us that the interior of the historic structure will also emphasize a late-40s early-50s design palette.

The building was gutted to its structural core, and (re)framing work has been completed. Mechanical, electrical, and plumbing work has begun, Laneri says.

It will offer 42 units, a mix of studios, one-, two- and three-bedrooms (including a penthouse), which had to be designed around the 18-foot pillars and a fixed window configuration. Those original designs were done by CRSA Architecture.

“It’s one of the most complex developments we’ve ever done,” Laneri notes. “The site is very tight, and coordinating easements and other things with the neighbors has been a process.”

While Ritchie has experience with conversions – they transformed a 286-unit failed condo project in Orem into the Midtown project – the historical aspect has been an experience for growth.

Dealing with an old coal chute, an old furnace, and a series of tunnels in the basement have kept builders on their toes.

Construction on the original building is expected to take 18 months.

The new building

Designed to sit on the footprint of the demolished parking garage, the new building with provide 79 new homes in a podium plus five structure. It will also be a unit mix from studios to three-bedrooms.

Excavation will go down two levels, to supply four levels of parking within the structure. Its 145 stalls (down from a proposed 155) will service the development’s 121 units. Digging is scheduled to start next month.

Street front presence will consist of four dwelling units, a leasing office, and a building entrance.

Renderings and site plans courtesy CRSA Architecture.

Editor’s note: This post has been updated.

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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.