Salt Lake City is on the cusp of major advances in affordable housing, water conservation, and breathing new life into the Ballpark neighborhood, Mayor Erin Mendenhall said Tuesday at the annual State of the City address.
In prepared remarks delivered to an audience at Woodbine Food Hall in the budding Granary District, Mendenhall said the city should embrace growth and lean in to bold decisions that will shape Utah’s capital for decades.
“If the work and outcomes of the last year and beyond have taught us anything,” she said, “it’s that Salt Lake City is in a constant forward motion, and there’s just no looking back.”
Mendenhall said Salt Lake City has more than recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic and is more energetic than ever.
She touted some of her administration’s wins over the past year: a landmark lease that will keep Delta Air Lines as a hub carrier for decades; a pilot program that allowed no-fare travel across the Utah Transit Authority system; and a citywide reduction in crime from the mid-pandemic peak.
Moving forward, Mendenhall said she would authorize the city’s Public Utilities Department to take the necessary steps to ensure the annual contribution of nearly 13 billion gallons of treated water to the Great Salt Lake while also launching a thorough review of municipal water use.
She also called on the City Council to create a drought surcharge on city water bills that she says will dissuade users from being wasteful. The cost of the surcharge would fluctuate depending on drought conditions, and would end if and when Utah emerges from the drought.
Mendenhall said the disappearance of the lake is not happening to Utahns, it’s happening largely because of Utahns and climate change.
“Utahns are not victims or passive observers,” she said. “We must take responsibility for our choices and take bold action now.”
Housing initiative would help 1,500 families
Mendenhall said her administration has built successful relationships regionally and at the state level to fight homelessness after years of Utah’s capital carrying an outsized burden of a statewide challenge.
The mayor pointed to her success in securing a deal for a village of tiny homes and a $6 million investment that will help expedite the creation of more than 400 affordable units.
She vowed to build on the city’s investments in affordable housing and its fight against gentrification displacing residents, announcing that, with the council’s OK, the city will put up to $10 million into a new program that will create affordable homes for 1,500 families.
The city would use federal pandemic relief funds, she said, to create 1,000 rental units and 500 resident-owned homes that will allow homeowners and renters alike to build equity.
Mendenhall called it an innovative move that allows residents, not corporations, to share profits each year and benefit from property sales and refinancing.
“It’s not only new affordable housing. It is ongoing checks in the hands of the residents,” she said. “It’s millions of dollars that will go into the pockets of residents.”
Her State of the City address comes one week after the Larry H. Miller Co. announced it would be moving the Salt Lake Bees out of its decadeslong home at what is now Smith’s Ballpark, 77 W. 1300 South, and into new digs in South Jordan’s Daybreak.
To ease the sting of the departure, Mendenhall announced that the Larry H. and Gail Miller Family Foundation would spearhead a public-private effort to raise $100 million for investments in the Ballpark neighborhood.
Zions Bank and Intermountain Health are also slated to join the city and Miller foundation in the fundraising initiative.
“There has never been an investment like this,” the mayor said, “in our city before.”
Mendenhall said a plan to guide development in the Ballpark neighborhood was immediately put into action after being adopted by the council last fall. A team is reviewing zoning changes in the neighborhood, a new crosswalk is being designed near the TRAX station, and the city is analyzing traffic on 1300 South to see how it can reconfigure traffic lanes.
Investing in the economy, not just housing
The mayor said she remains committed to strengthening the economy of the west side by working to attract national retailers and support local entrepreneurs.
Meanwhile, she wants to see the downtown area transformed into a year-round entertainment hub that serves sports fans, concertgoers and people seeking dinner or a drink.
Over the coming years, she said, the city will use vacant properties it owns downtown and on the west side to entice economic investment, not just housing.
Salt Lake City, Mendenhall said, is on track to be more environmentally resilient, with thousands of new trees planted on the west side and a voter-approved bond for parks that will lead to the west side’s first regional park. She also highlighted a yet-to-be approved measure to make new apartments better equipped for electric vehicle charging, and the city opting into a deal that will power Utah’s capital with renewable electricity by 2030.
“All these pieces connect to empower an incredible future for Salt Lake City,” she said, “where we will take our vision for cleaner air and a stronger environment to the next level.”
Mendenhall said she wants that future to include a denser urban forest, “green roofs” that capture pollution and improve air quality, free public transit, and a thriving Jordan River as the heart of the parks system on the west side.
The mayor said the city stands ready to adapt and grow, and called for creating that future together as a creative, tenacious and caring community.
“There’s no stopping us,” the mayor said. “We are bold. We are courageous. We are Salt Lakers, and we are ready.”