Artists are historically drawn to emerging neighborhoods that offer lower rents and ample workspace. For this reason, Artspace, a nonprofit organization that provides affordable live and work space for artists, has focused on projects in the formerly industrial western edge of downtown Salt Lake.
But according to Jessica Norie, the executive director of Artspace, quality of life issues in the Depot District, the organization’s home for the last 20 years, have deteriorated to the point that tenants are leaving.
“We have seen a decline in this neighborhood,” said Norie.
Norie was one of several participants in a panel discussion on Station Center, a multi-block redevelopment project led by the Redevelopment Agency of Salt Lake City (RDA). The panel was hosted by the Downtown Alliance and included representatives from the Utah Department of Heritage and Arts and the RDA.
The RDA unveiled its plans for the Station Center project area last April. The project area consists of multiple parcels in a two block radius between the Rio Grande Depot and the Intermodal Hub.
The city intends to make Station Center an arts and culture district that is a regional attraction while adding residents to the neighborhood that will help support the adjacent Gateway Mall.
“This is probably the most transit-rich neighborhood in the Intermountain West,” said Ed Butterfield, the RDA senior project manager.
The neighborhood is a regional transit center, with proximity to Interstates 15 and 80 and the Intermodal Hub that is the terminus of the FrontRunner commuter rail line, the Blue TRAX light rail line, 14 bus routes (including three high-frequency routes) and a GREENbike station.
The neighborhoods accessibility has also contributed to its quality of life issues. The area is a draw for homeless individuals utilizing the Road Home Shelter and the Fourth Street Clinic. The area also attracts criminals that seek to take advantage of vulnerable populations.
But many neighborhood stakeholders are optimistic. The city increased its police presence in the neighborhood last year and this year the Utah State Legislature approved over $9 million to go toward the construction of a new shelter.
For long-term residents of the neighborhood, the new momentum in this neighborhood is a welcome sign.
“We are excited to have neighbors,” said Norie.
According to Brian Somers, the deputy director for the Utah Department of Heritage and Art, the neighborhood has the potential to be a regional draw. The organization has operated out of the Rio Grande Depot since 1979. Somers is working with the RDA to convert a state-owned property on 500 West into the Utah Museum of History, Heritage & Art. The museum would be part of Station Center and would house thousands of historical artifacts that are currently stored in the basement of the Rio Grande Depot.
Somers stated that the museum is still in the initial study phase, but he envisions a mixed-use building with ground-floor retail below several floors of exhibit space.
The first development in the Station Center project area is already under construction. Artspace is converting the Beehive Brick Building on the 200 South block of 500 West into a mixed-use development consisting of 13 residential units and eight commercial units. Norie expects the project to be completed in November.
The next project expected to start construction is the redevelopment of the Serta Mattress Building. The RDA board of directors approved a concept design and term sheet for the project that will be developed by LandForge and Community Studio. The developers plan to redevelop the three-story warehouse into a commercial property.
The RDA divided the Station Center into six parcels available for development. The Serta Mattress Building is parcel two and the RDA selected Boyer to develop parcel one, a large parcel directly east of the Intermodal Hub.
The RDA board of directors approved concept drawings for parcel one during its April meeting. Boyer has proposed a mid-rise, mixed-use development that fronts both 600 West and 300 South. The Boyer project will include a 72,500 square foot commercial building, 85 residential units, a 321-stall parking structure, 10,000 square feet of retail/flex space and a 120-room hotel.
The RDA will release a request for qualifications (RFQs) over the summer for parcels three and four. Parcel five is slated to become the site of a year-round public market. The city council acting as the RDA board of directors approved the parcel five as the site for the market during its March meeting.
According to Jill Wilkerson Smith, a project manager for the RDA, the city will begin utility work later this year. Smith also stated that the owners of two privately-owned parcels in the project area have expressed interest in building something similar to what Boyer has planned for parcel one.