Bringing life to dreams nurtured for more than two decades, members of Utah’s Greek Orthodox community are finalizing plans for a huge new development surrounding the Holy Trinity Cathedral in downtown Salt Lake City.
Documents soon to be submitted to City Hall envision creating an upscale campus around the 95-year-old cathedral at 279 S. 300 West, with elevated green plazas and public walkways, and an expanded cultural center for congregants of the Greek Orthodox Church of Greater Salt Lake.
The church’s yearly Greek Festival would get a larger and better-equipped home within the complex, capable of hosting more visitors.
And in what church leaders see as an investment on behalf of future members, the project would also bring an ambitious commercial development to several church-owned parking lots on both sides of 300 West. Draft plans call for multistory office and apartment towers, a 1,000-stall underground parking garage, shops, restaurants and a 150-room hotel — to be built and managed in partnership with Utah-based developer Woodbury Corp.
Initial plans also contemplate a skybridge across 300 West, a state highway. That elevated pedestrian bridge, though still conceptual, would link the heart of the new church campus with midblock Pierpont Avenue to the west and another residential and office high-rise planned just south of the Crane Building.
“We’re excited, not only for the good that will come out of such a project for our parish and future generations of youth but for Salt Lake City and downtown as a whole,” said the Rev. Archimandrite George Nikas, presiding priest at Holy Trinity Cathedral.
The congregation will launch a major fundraising campaign Saturday.
In their deal with Woodbury Corp., church members intend to put about $12 million toward building the new cultural center, then rely on a leasing partnership with the development firm to finance the rest of the project.
The overall price tag is estimated at upward of $300 million.
With nearly 80,000 square feet of office spaces, several ground-floor restaurants and as many as 550 new apartments, the Holy Trinity development would transform that area of Utah’s capital around Pioneer Park.
“It will bring vitality and more visitors,” Nikas said of the project. “And it will bring an excellent opportunity for us to share even more of our Orthodox faith and our Hellenic culture.”
The congregation will share many of the project’s amenities with the public as well, he said, including its plaza and walkways, and a gymnasium, fitness center and outdoor swimming pool that will be part of one of the apartment complexes.
The priest said commercial aspects of the development could help solidify the church’s finances in the coming years, allowing it to broaden its charitable works.
Decades in the making
Groundbreaking could be a year or more away, but officials with the church and Woodbury are putting the last details to both the plans and the project’s complex finances — subject to a final vote by parishioners and approval by church authorities in advance of applying for city building permits.
The development has been discussed for more than a generation, nurtured in part by Vasilios Priskos, a well-known real estate executive and church member who died in 2017. Parishioners selected Woodbury as their partner in the project a year ago from a list of six Utah developers.
According to Jeff Woodbury, vice president for development and acquisitions for Woodbury Corp., once city permits are approved, work on the buildings north and east of the cathedral will take roughly 2½ years to complete.
The plan, Woodbury said, is to finish those before work starts on an additional high-rise on the church’s other 1.2-acre parcel across the street.
The La France Apartments — a cluster of roughly 60 white row houses and walk-up apartments just east of the cathedral — are slated for demolition, Nikas said.
A similar number of moderately affordable apartments will be available in the project’s new residential towers, he said.
“From what I understand, the church never intended to be a landlord. Somehow it happened,” the priest said. “But Woodbury understands our determination and desire to continue to have apartments that are affordable.”
It’s unclear when existing residents in La France might be displaced.
The congregation’s popular Greek Festival — billed as the state’s second largest annual cultural gathering, after the Utah State Fair — will remain at its traditional site north of the cathedral this September, Nikas said.
Several subsequent festivals will be relocated either to Prophet Elias Greek Orthodox Church in Holladay or a rented locale downtown until work is complete. The event will then return to a larger indoor space with new kitchen facilities, bigger dance floors and room for additional guests.
Holy Trinity Cathedral, completed in 1925, will remain untouched, officials said. Lead architect George Melara with Phoenix-based Nelsen Partners said the design team has treated the historic example of Byzantine architecture as the project’s cornerstone.
The adjacent new cultural center, for example, will be located about 30 feet farther north than the existing center and other buildings nearby will have setbacks, opening up new space around the ornate, red-bricked cathedral.
“It’s the piece of art that anchors this area," Melara told parishioners in late January. "We felt it needed more breathing room.”
On Saturday, worshippers from Holy Trinity and Prophet Elias will launch a $12 million fundraising effort, dubbed the “Cornerstone Campaign."
They’re planning a carnival-themed banquet starting at 6:30 p.m. to kick it off, held at the Hellenic Memorial Cultural Center, north of the cathedral.
The campaign already has some donations in hand, according to a spokesman — anchored by $1 million from area restaurateur Gregory Skedros in memory of his late son, Anthony Skedros, who died in 1997 at age 32.
The Greek Orthodox Church has also received $500,000 gifts from both the Huntsman Foundation and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, officials said.
All funds raised in that campaign will go toward what leaders say is the project’s main feature: the 52,452-square-foot community center to replace the existing cultural center, which county records indicate was built in the early 1980s.
Along with new church offices, Sunday school classrooms and meeting rooms, the new center will feature a 600-seat banquet hall and a more elaborate version of the Hellenic Cultural Museum. That, Nikas said, will showcase the Greek community’s more than 110-year history in that neighborhood, known as Salt Lake City’s Greek Town.
The words “Greek Town” would also be written across a prominent section of the skybridge, according to conceptual renderings — harking back to the early 20th century, when the neighborhood was home to thousands of Greek families drawn to the state by its burgeoning mining industry.
The revamped Hellenic Cultural Museum will have new exhibits, a bookstore, library and research center, Nikas said, with a mission of supporting the preservation and study of that legacy.
A 99-year partnership
In a complex financial arrangement, the church and Woodbury intend to sign what is known as an “unsubordinated ground lease” on the roughly six acres of choice church-owned land involved.
That would essentially let the developer borrow against the land on a long-term basis to fund construction and the operation of the new buildings.
Once they are constructed, Woodbury intends to manage the apartments, stores, offices and parking garage full time on the church’s behalf for the life of the lease — Nikas said that would likely be 99 years — then give the property and buildings back to the church.
At a Jan. 26 town hall with congregation members, Jeff Woodbury said that under the deal, his firm — not the church — would bear financial risks from the project.
“Anything built on this property will be my debt,” Woodbury told a crowd of more than 200 parishioners. “And if a bank forecloses on that debt, they come after me. They don’t come after your church.
“So the chances of Holy Trinity not existing after this facility is built is slim to none,” he said.
Woodbury noted that his company — a four-generation Utah development firm founded 101 years ago — maintains similar lease and shared ownership arrangements with the University of Utah and the U.S. government.
Editor’s note • Paul Huntsman, owner and publisher of The Tribune, is a brother of Peter Huntsman, CEO of the Huntsman Foundation.