Downtown Salt Lake City to get a $15 million parking garage

(Rendering courtesy of The Ritchie Group/Architectural Nexus, via Salt Lake City) An early rendering of The Ritchie Group's proposed Block 67 development in Salt Lake City, known as The West Quarter, as though looking north along 300 West. Supporters of Japantown along 100 South fear the project could overwhelm the historic cultural enclave.

Salt Lake City has approved a way to pump $15 million into building a huge parking garage for Block 67, an ambitious residential and hotel project on the western edge of the city’s downtown.

The agreement, backed Tuesday by the City Council in its role overseeing the city’s Redevelopment Agency (RDA), clears a major hurdle for what is to be known as The West Quarter, a 6.45-acre development bounded by 100 South and 200 South from 200 West to 300 West.

Developers with Salt Lake City-based The Ritchie Group and Garn Development Co. in Layton plan to build more than 650 dwellings, two hotels, an office tower, retail shops, a tree-lined street cut through the block and an underground parking garage with more than 1,200 stalls.

With its four towers and extensive amenities, to be built in two phases, The West Quarter project will push the center of the city’s urban core west, with more robust pedestrian connections between the existing downtown and The Gateway and Vivint Smart Home Arena farther west.

“It really is a good project,” Councilman Charlie Luke said Tuesday. “It really is going to do a lot for the city and especially for that part of the city in terms of redevelopment."

But Tuesday’s unanimous vote also stems from an unconventional demand by the Utah Legislature, which allocated the $15 million to Salt Lake County in 2018 for “regionally significant parking structures.” County officials and the developers then asked Salt Lake City’s RDA to enact a series of legal maneuvers so it could act as a pass-through for the state money.

“It’s frustrating the way this came to us,” said Luke, who added that in his eight years on the council, “we’ve never had a project like this, where we’ve essentially been told by the state and the county, ‘This is what you have to do.’ "

Ryan Ritchie, a principal in The Ritchie Group, has said the underground parking garage is integral to the project’s overall financial success.

The city’s vetting of The West Quarter also led to ongoing negotiations between the developers and members of Utah’s Japanese community, mediated by the city. Descendants of the state’s first Japanese residents warned that the project threatened to overwhelm a blocklong stretch of 100 South along its northern border, known as Japantown.

That neighborhood, just west of the Salt Lake Palace Convention Center, was once a thriving hub of shops, restaurants and social halls for Asian immigrants.

Talks on a future Japantown presence in the area continue, RDA officials said. Ongoing negotiations have so far led to improved designs on how The West Quarter incorporates that segment of 100 South, they said, making it much less of a “back-end” of the project.

Mediated negotiations have also improved relations between developers and devotees of the nearby Japanese Church of Christ and the Salt Lake Buddhist Temple on issues such as the timing of trash pickups and trucks making deliveries during community festivals, RDA officials said.

Final plans for a future Japantown are still months away as a working group continues to meet, officials said. The RDA board has set aside $100,000 to hire a design consultant, tentatively in January, along with additional funds to build those improvements.

The loan agreement sets up a legal mechanism for the city to give the developers the $15 million in state money for the parking garage, then lets the developers pay it back over time as their project generates additional tax money. Salt Lake City’s RDA will in turn pass those payments back to the county.

In exchange, the developers are required to guarantee that a share of the garage’s stalls will be available to the public, serving the nearby Vivint Smart Home Arena and a future convention center hotel, planned at the southeast corner of the Salt Palace on 200 South and West Temple.

Phase one of the project, set to be complete by April, will bring 46 stalls on line, followed by 1,200 stalls as part of phase two, according to city memos.

The repaid cash, meanwhile, reportedly will fund what is to be a revolving loan account, maintained by the county for similar regional parking structures.