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Salt Lake City is finalizing a new $20 million vision for renovating Pioneer Park as the downtown area around it continues to grow in population.
The latest of many plans for this prominent urban green space got pitched this week to a positive yet cautious City Council. Concepts developed by city staffers and Salt Lake City-based Design Workshop — and gleaned from public input — include new groves of trees, reshaped walkways, better lighting, a performance pavilion, added sports facilities and other amenities meant to make the 10-acre park more inclusive and appealing.
There also would be a new drought-sensitive water misting feature, a playground, two new mass transit stations nearby and improved spaces for the park’s popular Downtown Farmers Market, according to the newest concepts, which city officials say are still being shaped.
It’s the oldest park in Utah’s capital, with 175 years of history and a reputation in recent decades of being run-down and prone to crime and vagrancy. After lots of discussion and several sidelined improvement proposals since 2003, these plans could become a reality as soon as 2023.
Assuming, that is, city leaders choose to allocate the money.
“The project looks amazing,” said new council member Alejandro Puy, representing the west side’s District 2. “I hope that we can do it.”
The area has added more residents since 2010 than any other part of the city, and at least another 1,016 housing units are now planned within a 15-minute walk from the block-size park. Yet parkland in general remains scarce across the urban core and rising land values are making it harder for the city to create new green spaces, according to Kristin Riker, director of the city’s Public Lands Department.
Residents around the park and citywide have consistently favored improving it in a series of surveys. The latest polling finds that half the respondents are either extremely or somewhat dissatisfied with the park in its current condition.
The latest plan, Riker said, centers on enhancing the park’s natural features with more shade trees planted than would be removed and new swaths of natural vegetation. The improvements would also seek to increase comfort in hopes of luring more visitors, with new seating, restrooms, a cafe and ranger station.
Security would be boosted as well, Riker said, with more round-the-clock activity and staffing and designs that provide for open lines of sight through the park. And there would be new basketball and pickleball courts, lawn games and improvements to the dog park.
“It will truly be your downtown park,” Riker added, echoing the city’s theme in seeking public review on its new designs.
History is a big part of the city’s focus, too. Outside consultants have made Pioneer Park the subject of the city’s first-ever “Cultural Landscape Report,” detailing its rich past as a guide to future upgrades. Plans for the park will get their second airing before the city’s Historic Landmark Commission on March 3rd.
The city has $3.4 million socked away from parks-related impact fees charged to developers that could help propel the new Pioneer Park vision, Riker said. The wave of downtown apartment construction could generate another $2.9 million in fees.
Discussions are ongoing at City Hall, meanwhile, about putting a new bond before voters to help pay for a host of new open-space amenities, including Pioneer Park. Separate from city efforts, the business-backed Pioneer Park Coalition is seeking an additional $15 million for the park from the Utah Legislature.
A coalition lobbyist, Scott Howell, said the Pioneer Park request was thus far getting a mixed reception from state lawmakers in charge of budgeting, as their March 4 adjournment approaches. But the idea, Howell said, is that any money allocated from state coffers would be matched by surrounding business owners.
“We’re not there yet,” Riker said of the $15 million request. “We’re still waiting to see if the funds come through.”
For its part, Salt Lake City is likely to take up new spending on Pioneer Park as part of its yearly capital improvement budget — and it’s not a done deal.
Though receptive to the new vision, Puy and other council members said Tuesday that before they allocate additional money for Pioneer Park, they want to balance budgetary needs at other parks across the city. Also vying on that priority list, they said, are the east side’s Allen Park; a new regional park envisioned to replace the west side’s now-closed Glendale water park; and the option of creating new public green spaces on the city-owned Fleet block, on the eastern edge of the Granary District.