Downtown Salt Lake City is headed in a new direction — up.
More than half a dozen new high-rises are now planned or underway in the urban core and several of them will take their place among the city’s tallest towers. Other projects will offer a new brand of luxury living high off the ground, with rooftop pools and sweeping views.
“This city is in ascension economically, and that’s being manifested on the skyline,” said Dee Brewer, executive director of the Salt Lake Chamber’s Downtown Alliance.
In addition to these freshly minted office, hotel and residential skyscrapers, developers are putting up at least a dozen midsize apartment buildings, which will join more than 20 sizable complexes constructed in Utah’s capital since 2011 that are now full.
This apartment construction is helping Salt Lake City realize a long-held goal of boosting its permanent population (now above 200,000) — although a majority of the dwellings will be rented at luxury or market rates even as the city struggles from a dire lack of affordable housing.
The trends toward height, luxury and adding people are part of a remarkable upsurge in real estate development in the city, much of it led by out-of-state investors.
“Downtown is off the charts,” said Kip Paul, vice chairman of investment sales at Cushman & Wakefield, a leading Salt Lake City real estate brokerage.
Projects illustrating this trajectory include:
• A 28-story Convention Center Hotel, set to rise by 2022 on the southeast corner of the existing Salt Palace, at 200 South and West Temple.
This is a government-subsidized project, with Salt Lake County guaranteeing Atlanta-based developer Portman Holdings and DDRM in St. George nearly $75 million in post-performance tax incentives to build it in hopes of spurring new and bigger convention business.
Salt Lake City lifted its downtown height restrictions for the gently curving tower, which will feature 750 rooms, meeting halls and a grand ballroom. Plans also include several multistory digital screens at street level on 200 South, akin to the huge display in the lobby of the 24-story office building at 111 Main, which opened in 2016.
Across town, a Phoenix-based developer called The Athens Group is pursuing the new Union Pacific Hotel. The eight-story, 225-room upscale hotel will be built into the historic Union Pacific Depot, with participation by Vestar, owner of The Gateway shopping and entertainment center.
• 95 State at City Creek, a 25-story office tower now going up at 100 South and State Street and set for completion in fall 2021. It’s being built by City Creek Reserve, a development arm of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which also put up 111 Main.
In recent pitches to the city’s commercial real estate brokers, church officials have said they intend to market much of 95 State’s nearly 498,000 square feet of new top-grade offices to technology companies, in addition to more typical tenants from the legal and financial sectors.
Located on the northeast corner of State Street and 100 South, just west of the Harmons Grocery store and south of the church’s Social Hall Heritage Museum, the tower will also include a Latter-day Saint meetinghouse spanning some 39,000 square feet.
• Word is that developers behind another major office project called 650 Main are now set to proceed with the first of two 10-story office towers side by side at 600 South West Temple.
Between them, 95 State and 650 Main will bring new supplies of office spaces with large contiguous footprints, which the city has lacked. “We know that those building spaces will be absorbed as they come on line because there is a demand out there,” said Lara Fritts, Salt Lake City’s former economic development director.
• Liberty Sky, a new 24-story luxury residential tower at 151 S. State, being built by Cowboy Partners and The Boyer Co.
Along with a rooftop swimming pool and other luxury amenities, it’ll have about 300 studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments with rents near the top of the city’s market rates, developers have said.
• Chicago-area developer Brinshore intends to build two residential towers a few blocks away, at 255 S. State, at 14 and seven stories, respectively, in a project backed by nearly $11 million in loans by the city’s Redevelopment Agency, or RDA.
This project will lean toward more affordable rents — thanks in part RDA financial incentives — with 60 percent or more of its 190 apartments set aside for residents making roughly half of the city’s median incomes.
Nearby, a Boston real estate firm called Kensington Investment is touting a 0.69-acre plot at 75 E. 200 South — currently home to a Carl’s Jr. restaurant — for what insiders say could be another apartment high-rise, this one some 23 stories tall.
• The Block 67 project — dubbed The West Quarter by developer The Ritchie Group — which would cover the block bounded by 100 South and 200 South from 200 West to 300 West, including what is known now as Royal Wood Plaza.
Several of the project’s four main buildings would be among the city’s tallest, at least as currently proposed. Talks continue over how the project will handle part of the block once known as Japantown.
Also being helped by the city’s RDA, Block 67 would include roughly 650 dwellings, two hotels, an office tower, stores, a tree-rimmed street winding through the block and more than 1,000 underground parking stalls.
The development also would have the effect, according to city planners, of pushing some of downtown’s new building height farther west, with the potential to sway more pedestrian traffic toward The Gateway and Vivint Smart Home Arena.
• The Exchange, a two-building project now taking shape along 400 South, where the former Barnes Bank Building and Salt Lake Roasting Co. once stood.
Its two multistory, mixed-use buildings will have nearly 412 apartments between them, about 80 of which will be affordable to residents making half the city’s median income.
With its central location, The Exchange is one of the more visible of more than a dozen apartment projects underway across the city. These range from another RDA-backed project called Paperbox Lofts near The Gateway to the Sugarmont Apartments, along Highland Drive in Sugar House.
These are coming after a burst of apartment construction across the city since 2011, including major clusters in west downtown and the TRAX corridors along 400 South and North Temple.
New residents will mean more vibrancy and nightlife downtown, Brewer and others said.
“The addition of residential is needed for the talent we need to recruit and the workforce that we need in the growing economy,” Brewer said. “And it also is a part of the vibe.”
Overall, the new high-rise and apartment projects — and others like them still in negotiations and not yet made public — may signal a crucial financial turning point for the state as a whole, based on the sheer volume of projects.
Infill development in the heart of downtown faltered seven years ago, most notably on the blocks around the then-newly built City Creek Center. The 22-story 222 Main office tower on Main Street, for example, struggled to land tenants when it debuted in 2009.
Today, that tower and many others like it have historically low vacancy rates.
Demand driven by years of job and population growth has pushed rents and office lease rates high enough so that erecting skyscrapers now makes sense to more investors. Brokers report avid interest from out-of-state developers hoping to do their first projects in Utah.
And in terms of city commerce, there are hopes in business circles that the new office and apartment buildings will have a combined effect of creating both new upscale workspaces and places for new employees filling them to live nearby.
The buildings could also put Salt Lake City in a better position to lure more technology companies to locate downtown instead of farther south in suburbs on the border of Salt Lake and Utah counties, in what is known as Silicon Slopes.
In addition to pushing buildings upward, the quest to make the most of available land close to downtown amenities such as nightlife and mass transit now appears to be guiding developers westward.
Several commercial and residential projects are already in the works clustered around the North Temple TRAX station, along the west end of the city’s 900 South corridor and into the west-side Granary District, with its acres of former industrial and warehouse properties.
So, in that sense, Salt Lake City is growing not just up but also out.