Home » News

From hookers to headlines to hip, Salt Lake City block about to make news again

First Published      Last Updated Apr 27 2015 11:22 am

Redevelopment » Leaders give green light to remaking former red-light district behind new mega-theater.

A once-notorious Salt Lake City back street appears destined for some artistic respectability.

Right next to construction of the new performing-arts center on Main Street, the city is launching a $12.8 million face-lift for Regent Street, Orpheum Avenue and a disused service alley off Main to be dubbed Regent Walk.

If the plans come true, the renovation will transform what was once called Commercial Street — home to the city's red-light district, complete with brothels, taprooms, gambling halls and later, several newspapers — into the nexus of an emerging downtown arts district.

The project is meant as an appealing complement to the $110 million, 2,500-seat George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Theater, under construction at 135 S. Main St., while adding an inviting and walkable north-south corridor between the Gallivan Center and City Creek Center.

Initial work begins in May on converting the run-down midblock segments — tucked between Main and State streets and stretching from 100 South to 200 South — into an intersecting trio of tree-lined, pedestrian-friendly thoroughfares with retail shops, restaurants and a public plaza.

The aim is to have city upgrades, new public art and a series of city-subsidized improvements by private property owners in place when the Eccles playhouse opens in 2016.

The revamped streets' wide and curbless sidewalks are to be sprinkled with nearly $2.2 million in specially commissioned art pieces, some of them interactive. Street furniture, tree grates, planters, light poles, bike racks and even trash cans will feature compatible design elements.

Another $700,000 is budgeted for audiovisual equipment to accommodate special events on the plaza and for projection screens on the facades of two adjoining parking garages.

"We're trying to be really open to the creative possibilities," said City Councilman Stan Penfold, chairman of the Redevelopment Agency, or RDA. "And when you look at the opportunities, it starts to feel like a lot could happen there."

Using iconic art installations, new retail, urban design and programmed events, "we're trying to create a destination for Salt Lake City," said Jesse Allen, project manager for GSBS Architects in Salt Lake City.

Aesthetic guidelines developed by GSBS — along with Utah-based firms VODA Landscape + Planning, Struck Creative, BNA Consulting, and Ensign Engineering and Land Surveying — were approved this month by the RDA board, composed of City Council members.

The RDA says it sees its initial design and enhancements to roads, paving, sewer and other utilities as creating a palette for the streets, letting surrounding property owners and commissioned artists under guidance of the Salt Lake City Arts Council fill in the full picture. According to Allen, major themes of a cultural gathering place, commerce, headline news, street theater and multiculturalism are all in play.

RDA Deputy Director Justin Belliveau said the design team studied street uses back to the days of early Mormon settlers, including its "less than savory" stint as a bordello district and its time as back shop to Salt Lake City's newspaper row.

Designs respect and acknowledge the street's past, Belliveau said, "but we also want to set the stage for it to become an important part of Salt Lake's history going forward."

As an example, special plastic wrapping on some sidewalk pavements will feature newspaper type. It will give walkways the feel of old press sheets— homage to various times when The Salt Lake Tribune, the Deseret News and the now-defunct Evening Telegram and Salt Lake Herald-Republican maintained offices nearby.

"We want to be careful not to make it a museum," Allen said, "but rather to tell stories in a subtle way that is discovered."

The RDA has set aside $1.56 million for a package of renovation loans and grants available to adjacent property owners along Regent, Orpheum, State and Main. Business owners may qualify for zero-interest loans of up to $200,000 to refurbish windows, shop entrances, dining areas, signs and lighting.

Private owners also could get grants of up to $20,000 for the same purposes — if they put up at least a quarter of total costs.

» Next page... Single page