South Downtown vibe drives vision for 11-story mixed-use building as first phase of Sears block redevelopment

A major hurdle keeping Salt Lake City’s Downtown from moving south may finally be removed in 2021. The Sears block developers have revealed plans for a $60-80 million, 11-story residential mixed-use building as their opening act at 800 South and State Street.

The owners, locals the Colmena Group and the Kimball Investment Company, plan to add 360 market-rate residential units and ~15,000 sf of ground-floor retail on 1.74 acres. The first phase will replace the mid-century modern Sears department store which fronts State Street between 7th and 8th South.

Sears block from the NW. Project site, center. Photo by Luke Garrott.

The monument-in-a-sea-of-parking Sears property has dampened urban vitality in south Downtown for decades. Some of Downtown’s favorite taco carts continue to grace its otherwise dead corners, and on the northeast, the “Sapa corner” is an anchor of local retail, food + beverage.

The “Sapa corner,” at 700 South and State. It sits with other local retail on the NE corner of the Sears block. Image courtesy Google Earth.

The 8th and State development would mark the first of three phases that could also bring internal green space and new mid-block streets.

The developers told Building Salt Lake that the provisional plan, subject to revision in recession and COVID realities, includes development of two other major pieces on their 8-acre parcel, with office and hospitality in mind.

First, they must pass the city’s planning commission for height and facade-length exceptions on phase one.

The plan

Developers rarely get the opportunity to effectively master plan such large swaths of prime real estate. While the development group is hesitant to specify the shape of the rest of the block, they emphasize their focus on the corners under their control – at 700 South and Main, 800 South and Main, and 800 South and State – the location of their first phase.

“There’s so many great amenities that the neighborhood has [and] there’s a shortage of rental housing in our market as a whole,” said Aabir Malik, vice president of development for the Colmena Group. “Particularly in this part of town we see this as a unique opportunity in a place where nature, art and culture can all converge together to form just kind of a new idea where people can embrace the authenticity of the neighborhood and the uses that already exist.”

8th and State, Sears block, rendering from State Street at 800 South. Image courtesy OZ Architects.

Malik and development partner Ryan Kimball told us this part of Salt Lake City is ready to become part of Downtown and still keep a distance from it. “The grittiness and authenticity of the neighborhood – the Sapa corner, breweries, tattoo shops, food alley – will make it a different Downtown destination than the suits and ties,” Kimball attests.

The developers are convinced they are contributing to walkability by adding density, and extol the building from both the observer’s (across the street) and the pedestrian’s perspective.

Aerial rendering of the Sears block first phase, from the SE. Image courtesy OZ Architects.

“For a pedestrian, although it shares a common podium, it’s like an S-shape from a bird’s eye view,” Kimball said. “For someone looking at this from across the street, it almost feels like two buildings.”

The developers’ design team is Denver-based, aspiring with Malik and Kimball to reproduce the neighborhood’s “quasi-industrial feel of brick and other natural materials” on the building’s facade.

They refused to specify a range for rental prices, but plan “a high-end amenity package” for residents.

Shadow studies for the building. Image courtesy OZ Architects.

The group has submitted renderings of the first building to the city for design review. The Sears block is zoned D-2, which requires planning review if developers want to build higher than 65 feet. At 11 stories, the 800 South & State would reach 120 feet, the maximum allowed under code.

In addition, their planned facade along State Street is 377 feet as proposed. City rules for the D-2 zone limit facade lengths to 200 feet.

There would be 400 parking stalls for 360 units, a 1.1 stall per unit ratio. The project’s parking is wrapped by the residential units and structured into four levels, one below-grade.

Good for the neighborhood?

Following what appears to be a trend in Salt Lake City, the builders are seeking to create an eastern facade that’s nearly twice the maximum length envisioned for the D-2 Downtown Support District.

Provisional Sears block site plan? First phase residential building in black, green space center. Mid-block streets are provisional, developers insist, dependent on city and UDOT approvals. Image courtesy OZ Architects.

That 377-foot-long facade fronting State Street and 195-foot southern facade fronting 800 South are major statements regarding the future scale of south Downtown.

The developers are convinced that they are contributing to walkability by adding density, and extol the building from both the observer’s (across the street) and the pedestrian’s perspective.

“For a pedestrian, although it shares a common podium, it’s like an S-shape from a bird’s eye view,” Kimball said. “For someone looking at this from across the street, it almost feels like two buildings.”

The developers also noted the new, 66-foot mid-block streets would divide up the super-block, and they’ll decrease the number of existing curb cuts that detract from the pedestrian experience.

Walking south on State Street the pedestrian will experience “Sapa, the tattoo shop, our retail, with very porous edges, then live-work units that could be filled by local makers,” Malik describes. There are four live-work spaces planned along State, five along 800 South, and two more along an adjacent internal street.

The developers told us “we have the long view for the property and the neighborhood.” “We’re long-term holders and see this as a legacy asset. That really shapes our view for timing and phasing.”

Expect slow, big, and hopefully steady on the Sears block. And yes, the parked cars from local dealers will remain on the premises in the meantime.

And so will its beloved taco carts, which have permits in good standing with city and county governments.

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