Tenants, property manager tussle over Salt Lake City construction project
By Paul Beebe
The Salt Lake TribuneFirst published Feb 21 2013 11:26AM
A brouhaha has erupted over the tear-down and reconstruction of a decrepit loading dock in front of the century-old Eccles Browning Warehouse on the west side of downtown Salt Lake City.
A spokesman for the property-management company said ripping out 150 feet of the dock, which has doubled as a raised sidewalk for years, had to be done. There were holes that people might step into and hurt themselves. And from time to time, homeless people sought shelter under the dock, which is about four feet above the ground.
But retail and professional tenants of the building on West Pierpont, between 300 and 400 West, say the project is ill-timed, is plagued by delays, prevents customers from reaching them and hurts their businesses.
"Our sales are down nearly 70 percent," said Kate Bullen, owner of Elemente, a used-furniture store, whose front door has been completely cut off from the street by the construction.
To reach Elemente, customers must walk east past several more of the building’s businesses — which also have no street access — to a door that opens onto a hallway leading to another door in the back. Outside again, customers walk west on another ancient dock to a set of gray doors at the rear of the store. In all, the distance is roughly 300 feet.
"We depend on walk-in customers and moving furniture in and out," Bullen said. "You can imagine the inhospitable landscape."
Reportedly built as a market, the brick building dates from the first decade of the 20th century. Drivers unloaded their contents onto the cement dock before they were brought inside. More than a hundred years later, the dock was no longer safe, said Irv Eastham, the liaison between L.B. Hunt Management Group, which manages the property, and the contractor.
Eastham knows Bullen and other tenants are upset. But he insists L.B. Hunt has done its best to inform everyone about the project and minimize disruptions to the businesses.
"The planning has taken over a year, so it hasn’t been a simple thing," Eastham said. "You are trying to figure out how to accomplish this project and make certain that the tenants are taken care of as much as you possibly can. They are the livelihood of their businesses, so you don’t want to do a project and have it last six months, and you want to do it at the right time."
Teresa Spas, who owns Tissu Fine Fabrics and Design Gallery in the building, is circumspect in her assessment of the construction project. Customers can reach Tissu from the street because the deck in front of her store is in good shape. It was replaced a few years ago after it collapsed, she said.
But the project has drastically reduced space for parking, so much so that she believes that many would-be customers aren’t stopping in. Her sales have suffered. She expected to sell 30 yards of fabric to students in Salt Lake Community College’s Fashion Institute who shop at Tissu for materials. So far, Spas has sold 5 yards of fabric.
"I just am wondering what is wrong. Why aren’t the students coming in and buying fabric? You know the psychology of people. If it isn’t easy to park, they go somewhere else," she said.
Demolition of the deck started Jan. 21, but due to snowy weather and a freezing rainstorm, the project bogged down. By last week, only a retaining wall had been built in front of the building. Between the wall and the building was little more than a few pieces of steel reinforcing rods and piles of gravel. No workers were in sight.
Eastham disagrees with some tenants who say that workers are often not on the job. He said there have been only three days when no one was there.
"Overall, here we are a little past two weeks, and things are going very well," Eastham said last week. "We expect the project will be completed hopefully in the next two to 2 1/2 weeks.
"We are doing everything we can to get it done as quickly as possible. When it’s finished, it will be a real nice addition to that side of the block," he said.
Meanwhile, tenants are doing what they can to cope. Bullen has cut her weekday store hours. Next door, Kin Ng, a partner at MJSA Architecture and Design, is not seeing some of his clients at his office. MJSA has a side door, but it opens onto a hallway just two feet wide.
"At this point we are not having very many client meetings in our office. We go to them," Ng said. "It’s pretty hard for them to get in, and they can’t park."