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Viaduct depends on $100M project
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Salt Lake City's intricate funding strategy to rebuild the North Temple viaduct involves tapping its school district and Salt Lake County for millions in property taxes as soon as the once-forsaken overpass area becomes prosperous.

But the linchpin is much bigger and perhaps riskier: A $100 million office-and-housing development -- to be built in the northern shadow of the new viaduct by the popular restaurateur Gastronomy -- that could reshape the capital's northern gateway.

If all three entities agree to help buy a $71 million viaduct -- considered key to the airport TRAX line -- they could be asked to step up again in future years to finance a streetcar line to Davis County.

The vision, crafted quietly over months by Mayor Ralph Becker's senior adviser, will get its first public airing tonight before the City Council.

"If they're not on board, it's tough for us to get there," Becker adviser Ben McAdams said Monday.

The plan calls for a so-called Community Development Area, where property taxes over a four- to eight-block area north of the viaduct would be funneled from the public agencies and Gastronomy to help plug a $15 million funding gap for the viaduct.

The city also hopes to persuade nearby property owners to fork over about $2.5 million in fees through a special-improvement district. In each case the sales pitch is the same: A new viaduct would help spur development that, in turn, would help boost property values and sales taxes to a level where all parties would benefit.

The city literally is facing the pressure of an oncoming train. The Utah Transit Authority has started construction from the airport of a TRAX line that somehow must bend south at the viaduct.

Engineers need to know the design plan so work along 400 West and North Temple can begin next spring.

A rebuilt viaduct would drop at 400 West rather than the current 300 West. It would feature two lanes of traffic each way, a six-foot bicycle lane, eight-foot sidewalks on both sides and a platform TRAX station near the top that would have elevator and escalator access to a FrontRunner stop below.

The city's "target" for the project is $65 million. And $50 million is in the bank. UTA has pledged $25 million, while the Legislature committed $20 million during this year's session. The Wasatch Front Regional Council has promised $5 million, which leaves city officials $15 million shy.

McAdams says $12.5 million could come from the county and school district (thanks to a big boost from the Gastronomy project, pegged to open in six years). The remaining $2.5 million would come from the nearby property owners' fees. The term of the CDA would remain fluid -- it could end once the money is raised -- although McAdams says it could be revived for an eventual streetcar line.

The projected cost of the viaduct is $71 million, but city engineers think they can shave $6 million once work is under way.

All parties want the 18-month project to commence next spring so vehicle traffic on the new viaduct could be free to flow by the 2011 holiday shopping season.

City officials hope to get a commitment from Gastronomy, the school district and the county in coming weeks.

"If these investments occur on schedule and to the degree currently contemplated," an administration memo to the City Council reads, "and if the school district and Salt Lake County agree to contribute 100 percent of their shares of the [tax] increment, the RDA staff believes the CDA could generate $25-$27 million over a 25-year period."

But the bulk depends on Gastronomy, which wants a $65 million office park just north of its Salt Lake Hardware building buoyed by $35 million in new housing. And in the lingering recession, such projects have a checkered track record at best.

But, if successful, officials salivate over a transformation of the entire northern gateway -- connected by streetcar to all the commuters and consumers in Davis County and beyond.

If 400 West becomes a major thoroughfare, McAdams says, the $100 million project Gastronomy plans to build could yield more investments from other developers -- to the tune of $300 million.

djensen@sltrib.com

North Temple » Airport TRAX line puts pressure on design plan.
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