West Jordan • On a normal weekday afternoon around Veterans Memorial Park, the Wild West Jordan Playground is full of children running, swinging and spinning with their parents. Others borrow books from the library just across the street.
Walk a couple of minutes and see tennis players darting on courts and swimmers splashing at an outdoor pool. The area, which is near City Hall at 8000 S. Redwood Road (1700 West), also boasts the West Jordan Historical Museum and the rodeo grounds for the West Jordan Western Stampede.
For some residents, this is the best gathering space in West Jordan. They’re content with its features. For others, though, the city lacks a center, a core, a heart.
With 117,000 inhabitants, West Jordan is the state’s third most-populous city (behind Salt Lake City and West Valley City and just ahead of Provo in the 2020 census). For them, the city is missing a place that reflects its growth and identity.
The idea of creating a downtown has been around for years. The parcel across the street from City Hall has traditionally been the zone that the city considers the most suitable for such a project. But that land has various owners, the Jordan School District being the largest, and there is no concrete plan to buy it.
“The city doesn’t have any interest in pushing those landowners into something that they don’t want to do,” said Tauni Barker, the city’s public affairs director. “However, they do want to have a plan in place. So if a developer wanted to come and buy out those landowners at any time in the future, there was kind of a plan for what that area would look like.”
This city center would most likely be a multiuse zone, Barker said, with high-density housing and commercial properties.
How much the project might cost
Although discussions about proposals have been active in the City Council, all plans seem to be steered to the far future. Without a willing property seller, the project would take nearly 50 years to come to life. But, if the school district decided to unload its property, Barker said, a downtown could be made possible in two to five years.
That specific piece of land interests the city for its proximity to the Veterans Memorial Park amenities and a TRAX stop. Those features would make the walkability aspect of the potential city center easier.
“We’ve had conversations over the years with the city, and we are open to considering a proposal,” said Sandra Riesgraf, the school district’s communications director. “But we don’t have one to consider right now.”
Funding for a project of this scale would also prove limiting. Buying the school district’s land could run between $75 million and $100 million.
“The city certainly doesn’t have $100 million to try to offer to buy the school district out of that space,” Barker said. “And they’re just one of the property owners.”
There’s another challenge: The parcel hosts the school district’s Auxiliary Services and its relocation adds to the bill. There would also have to be developers willing to work with the city on its visioning for a city center. And West Jordan might need extra help from Salt Lake County or a state agency.
The downtown discussion includes plans to connect West Jordan’s main park to other trail systems and the Jordan River.
“It’s going to take some time,” said Kayleen Whitelock, the City Council chair. “And we have to come together with a consensus and have a really good plan that then we can kind of market, because it’s going to require more than just a single developer.”
The council would have to examine zoning changes, along with other permits and land acquisitions — all this without resorting to eminent domain, which this council has no interest in pursuing.
“This is the time to get it right,” Whitelock said.
In 2021, the council rejected a plan from its economic development office, which consisted of walkable blocks and space for a small grocery store. The issues with the rendering were that it focused too much on housing and would displace a mobile home park.
“It’s close,” Whitelock said, “but it’s not exactly what we wanted.”
The goal is “to create a sense of place,” she said. “So we’re not looking to just put in tons and tons of high-density housing,”
What residents want in a city center
Despite all the costs and other challenges, residents are free with their opinions on what they would like to see.
“As the third largest city in Utah, it’s somewhat shameful that we do not have an area that represents us like some of our surrounding, smaller sister cities,” said Brandy Wright, a resident who participated on West Jordan’s general plan committee.
Other downtown areas come to mind when thinking about it. Something similar to Salt Lake City’s Gateway or its 9th and 9th district, some suggest, including greenery, sidewalks and another grocery store option.
“Having walkability, mixed-use housing opportunities, small shops and different eateries, preferably local, small mom and pop-type places that may not be huge chains,” Wright said. “…Having a lot of diversity with an area that you can go down and access a lot of different things and also hold community events there, possibly.”
Leticia Huayhuay Castillo believes that having a downtown area would make West Jordan “perfect.” She lives in nearby Taylorsville but likes to take her grandchildren to Veterans Memorial Park, which is just five minutes from her home.
“Sometimes we go to Salt Lake, around City Creek [Center]. It’s very nice to hang out around there, shopping at the stores and eating in restaurants,” she said in Spanish. “I’d like to have something similar nearby. We would save time. It takes me 45 minutes to get there, because I drive very slowly.”
For Chad Lindeman, who moved to West Jordan four years ago, it’s all about small businesses and mom and pop joints.
“I like to support small businesses,” he said. “It just makes sense to put that in a West Jordan city center.” He includes in his wish list restaurants, a bar, an open area with space for food trucks and a small venue where people can organize art shows.
And the promise of a new development that replaces what’s currently in the area is also alluring.
“That Jordan School District building, it doesn’t really fit in,” Lindeman said. “It’d be nice to see that gone and something better there.”
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Alixel Cabrera is a Report for America corps member and writes about the status of communities on the west side of the Salt Lake Valley for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here.