Sugar House development that went up in flames was ‘going to add character’ to neighborhood

Developers plan to rebuild the eight-story apartment-retail complex, which was expected to open in 2023.

The Sugar House building that went up in flames late Tuesday in a massive overnight fire was poised to become an eight-story residential and commercial property in the heart of the neighborhood’s main business district.

“This is one we were all really excited about,” Brandon Hill, co-chair of the Sugar House Chamber of Commerce, said as he stood near the site Wednesday, watching the still-burning blaze. “It was going to add to the character of the neighborhood in a way a lot of the new construction hasn’t really done.”

Now, the fire-affected portion of the largely gutted Residences at Sugar Alley structure, located at 2188 Highland Drive, will undergo a planned demolition beginning at 5 p.m. Wednesday that Salt Lake City fire officials expected to continue into the evening.

A California-based spokesperson affiliated with Lowe Property Group, the Salt Lake City developers behind Sugar Alley, confirmed via email early Thursday they intend to resurrect the apartment and retail complex.

“Our goal,” said Ron Cole, a principal with Eight Bay Advisors in Newport Beach, Calif., a key financier in the project, “is to rebuild the property as it was designed.”

The development was unoccupied and partly constructed when the fire first ignited around 11 p.m. Tuesday. There were no reported injuries. The cause of the blaze remained unknown as of Wednesday afternoon, but city fire officials said federal agents will assist with the department’s investigation of the blaze.

“This is going to take countless man hours to get to the bottom of,” Capt. Tony Stowe said.

(Salt Lake City Police Department) Salt Lake City fire crews respond to a massive blaze at an apparently unoccupied, under-construction building in Sugar House late Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2022. Salt Lake City police assisted fire officials in securing the scene.

Plans called for 186 new apartments and several large, ground-floor spaces at the U-shaped building devoted to retail, as well as what was to be a publicly accessible atrium. Completion was expected in early 2023.

Cole said company officials were “devastated” over the huge blaze.

“Given the size and strength of this fire, we are especially grateful for the first responders, including the Salt Lake City Fire Department, the Salt Lake City Police Department, and other city officials, for their tireless and professional efforts to respond,” he wrote in an email.

“We are also grateful that the damage appears to be limited to buildings and property,” Cole said. “We recognize that this fire has temporarily displaced residents and businesses, and we remain very concerned for the well-being and safety of everyone affected.

“We hope that our neighbors who have not yet returned to their homes will be permitted to do so safely,” Cole said, “and as soon as possible.”

Fire officials had not yet calculated a damage estimate as the blaze continued to burn Wednesday afternoon, churning thick billows of acrid smoke skyward. Property records show the uncompleted structure was already valued at more than $12 million as of this year.

[Read more: Sugar House fire: Crews fight massive overnight building blaze]

Elsa Jopling, 23 and a resident of the adjacent Sugarmont Apartments, stood near the Sprague branch of the Salt Lake City Public Library System, which was closed due to the nearby fire, around midmorning Wednesday, watching as crews doused the blaze from a crane-mounted hose as it continued to rage in the southern part of the under-construction Sugar Alley complex.

Jopling, a hospital worker who moved into the Sugarmount complex in March, said she, her boyfriend and cat were evacuated at about 11:30 p.m. Tuesday, along with hundreds of other neighboring residents, fire officials said. Together, the three wandered the neighborhood watching the fire for about two hours until they opted to shelter at a nearby Airbnb.

“We don’t have a car,” Jopling said. She said they smelled something burning midmorning Tuesday, “but we didn’t think anything of it. We just thought someone was smoking maybe.” It is unclear if that was related to the overnight blaze.

Firefighters had tamped down most flames as of early Wednesday, but a Salt Lake City police officer at the scene midmorning said that the fire had since kicked up again with shifting winds and stormy weather.

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Emergency crews continue to respond to a four-alarm fire in a new construction of apartment residences in Sugar House, Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2022.

At the scene Wednesday, melted plastic coverings clung to the skeleton of the wood-built structure’s scaffolding and remaining steel beams. Still-burning flames had not spread to any adjacent buildings, including the complex Jopling lives in, fire officials said.

“There’s a tremendous amount of destruction that has happened to this building, and we’re worried about a lot of different things,” Stowe said of the Sugar Alley development. “Right now, this close proximity smoke inhalation is one of them.”

So was the potential collapse of the building’s scaffolding, Stowe said a few hours before the planned demolition was announced.

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Emergency crews continue to respond to a four-alarm fire in a new construction of apartment residences in Sugar House, Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2022.

Stowe noted Wednesday that at least one evacuated, adjacent building — The Vue at Sugar House Crossing, located just north of the blaze — had sustained some exterior damage due to its proximity to ongoing firefighting efforts.

As of Wednesday afternoon, a “pretty large percentage” of neighboring residents remained evacuated, and many could expect to remain displaced overnight as the scheduled demolition unfolded.

The American Red Cross of Utah will continue to host a temporary evacuation shelter overnight Wednesday at a Latter-day Saint meetinghouse located at 2005 S. 900 East. Evacuees seeking more information about the shelter may contact the Red Cross at 800-733-2767.

Traffic and pedestrian walkways south of the intersection at 2100 South and Highland Drive were expected to remain cordoned off Wednesday evening amid continued firefighting and demolition efforts.