< Previous Page
With more than 25,000 off-street parking spots, another 2,000 metered spots on the streets and excellent public transit connecting to urban attractions, downtown has enough available parking, according to Wilf Sommerkorn, director of the city’s planning department.
Too much parking, "and in essence you could wind up killing your downtown," Sommerkorn said. "If it’s nothing but parking, then there’s not reason to come."
In November 2012, Salt Lake City passed a ban on demolishing buildings in the city’s central business district for surface parking lots. The new ordinance also prohibits surface lots and parking structures on block corners downtown and along Main Street. Lots midblock must be behind a building or set 75 feet back from the front property line.
In December 2012, the city changed its demolition ordinance to require timely completion of demolitions and subsequent property improvements. It also put limits on tearing down buildings without an approved reuse plan for the land.
Source: Salt Lake City Council meeting minutes
No more ‘Sugar Holes’ » Another motive for parking limits is avoiding so-called ``broken teeth’’ along the city’s lengthy blocks, which, thanks to Utah’s pioneer planners, are up to three times longer than in other large cities. Gaps between storefronts disrupt the flow of pedestrian traffic along sidewalks, with broad effects, planners and city leaders say.
Property records show vacant land makes up at least 82 acres of the downtown’s nearly 700-acre footprint, not counting streets and the area’s largest green space: Pioneer Park.
Whether vacant lots or blighted buildings, "missing teeth are a very big problem, maybe the biggest problem the downtown faces," Garrott said. "For downtown Salt Lake City to be a real city, it can’t have that many missing teeth."
The demolition ordinance addresses the same issue, with an eye on the city’s so-called "Sugar Hole" experience.
Starting in 2008, developer Craig Mecham tore down everything on a 4.5-acre patch at 2100 South and Highland Drive (1100 East) in the heart of the Sugar House community, only to see financing for a mixed-use facility he planned collapse with the real estate bust.
The land sat empty for years, although Mecham gradually filled in the hole and put landscaping around it.
Construction of the 45,000-square-foot retail and residential Sugar House Crossing resumed in 2012 and it is set to open this year. But the episode hurt the Sugar House commercial district and the city wants to avoid a replay.
"Every time you break up the street face with a hole, you risk losing activity,’’ Councilman Stan Penfold said. ``You can plant all the trees and flowers you want and it’s just not going to be interesting.’’
Too often, Penfold said, "temporary" parking lots last a generation or more, as developers buy up and bank downtown land, piece parcels together and speculate on future development.
"The council recognizes a transitional use," Penfold said. "Thirty years is not a transition."
Garrott said the city has been "very permissive" toward landowners who buy properties and let them deteriorate. He said City Hall may resort to heavy blight taxes "so it becomes a liability rather than an investment."
"Love it or list it," he said. "Land bankers who are neglecting their property are helping our community how?"
Unintended consequences? » But developers and downtown boosters warn the ordinances are backfiring. Limiting the supply of new parking makes existing lots more lucrative, killing incentives for lot owners to build. And the demolition rules, they say, keep abandoned and ugly buildings standing.
Some of Salt Lake City’s junkiest buildings — Arrow Press Square, the Yardstick on 300 South between State and Main, the old Zephyr at West Temple and 300 South, and the Shamrock Bar on 200 South between 200 West and 300 West — would be better off razed and turned into landscaped parking, the head of city’s Downtown Alliance said.
In some cases, Downtown Alliance Executive Director Jason Mathis said the city and its Redevelopment Agency are letting their own properties sit empty and undeveloped. The city also ignored its own demolition standard when it bought and unnecessarily tore down structures before putting up the new Public Safety Building at 475 S. 300 East, he said.
The rules "would not allow a private developer this same flexibility,’’ Mathis wrote in an October 2012 letter to then-City Council Chairman Soren Simonsen. "This may be a situation where Salt Lake City is asking developers to live up to standards that city projects have not also met.’’
—Next Page >
Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.