Decades have passed since Margaret Holloway worked at a video store on North Temple. Since then, she said, the area has had trouble holding onto businesses.
She remembers the heyday of Diamond Lil’s steakhouse before it shut down — and caught fire. There have been previous unsuccessful efforts to revitalize this western gateway into downtown Salt Lake City with the help of business owners. And for a long time, the street housed run-down businesses and vacant buildings.
“It’s just been a shame. Because in that street, they’ve had other businesses try,” she said. “But it’s just gone downhill.”
Now — with Rocky Mountain Power’s plans for a 100-acre commercial and housing campus, the city’s Spark! mixed-use development and upgrades at the Utah State Fairpark — that might change.
Holloway, who lives in nearby Rose Park, sees all this and more as a boon for the west side, especially the prospect of coffee shops, mixed-income housing and more walkability.
“Once you get more people living there, you get young folks going in and out,” she said. “They can take TRAX. They can go to different parts of the city. It’s going to just perk it right up.”
The area already has popular businesses along with other big mixed-use development proposals. But the city’s plans are outdated and its economic vision is disjointed, according to Jake Maxwell, deputy director of the city’s Department of Economic Development.
His team hopes to tie together the insights from those plans and engage the community in a new vision — and do so while avoiding the perils of gentrification.
“We anticipate gaining insights from [the city’s “Thriving in Place” study] as we develop this so that we can promote economic growth,” he said. “But we don’t do that at the risk of displacing businesses or residents.”
With a $170,000 award from the Wasatch Front Regional Council and a local match of $20,000, the city aims to draft a North Temple economic revitalization plan.
“North Temple has been on our radar ever since we became a department over five years ago, just because of blight and crime issues,” Maxwell said. “We worked closely with businesses in the area, and one of the largest complaints we’ve heard is just the increase in crime, particularly after Operation Rio Grande,” a sweeping crackdown that dispersed homeless individuals from the Rio Grande neighborhood.
Here is a look at what is in the works in and around North Temple:
The city and its Redevelopment Agency recently broke ground on Spark!, a 2.1-acre project designed to transform the site of the now-demolished Overniter Motel into 200 units of mixed-income housing, retail space and a day care center.
Victoria Petro, the Salt Lake City Council member representing District 1, which includes North Temple, held one of the shovels at the groundbreaking ceremony. She is excited about the project, the community’s involvement and the potential it brings.
“If North Temple has kind of been where you go to disappear and to kind of sink into the worst of what’s available to you, this kind of investment says nope,” she said. “When you’re here, even if you’re earning [somewhere between a wide range of incomes], you have a home and you have a home that will be beautiful and that will consider all of your needs, and that’s dignified.”
Rocky Mountain Power
It is expected to transform vast and vacant acres into a thriving transit-oriented haven, complete with housing, retail, dining, green spaces and access to the Jordan River.
He also points to a rail line that cuts through the property as a chance to prop up another nearby neighborhood.
“If they build an auto bridge, that would connect North Temple with 200 South,” he said, “and provide a better connection to Poplar Grove to be able to benefit from the amenities that are going on at the Rocky Mountain site.”
More than 120 years after its construction, the Utah State Fairpark may become an even stronger presence along North Temple.
With the Legislature’s approval of SB187, the Fairpark is set to dissolve its corporation and become a state authority, providing it with tools to secure funding and execute its master plan.
Nothing is certain at this time, but officials want to make the Fairpark a year-round attraction and repurpose some of its historic assets, Larry Mullenax, executive director of Utah State Fair, said. Some buildings on the perimeter would be programmed for retail or educational uses. And west-side natural features, especially the Jordan River, would be highlighted.
“Our intent is to provide more jobs, more walkable space, and also approach and hopefully make an impact on the food desert that’s in that area,” Mullenax said. “We’re hopeful that a year-round activation will solve some of that problem, but also bring some of the everyday essentials, which people in that area would like to have better access to, a little closer to home.”
Some worry that this wide-scale investment infusion will trigger gentrification, forcing out some current businesses and residents.
But Holloway still sees these moves as positive additions, since most of what she sees now are run-down and closed businesses that could use some help.
“It’s blighted’ it’s not gentrification,” she said. “You are turning this into a vibrant section of town that the west side deserves.”
Options offered by the Spark! development actually are a response to gentrification, Petro said, with units of up to four bedrooms available for people with 20% of the area median income.
“Will we welcome in people who have an AMI that we haven’t seen on the west side before? Probably, yes,” she said. “But not at the expense of those of us who have lived here and made this place a wonderful place to be.”
Petro also hopes that migrating encampments, a sore spot in and around the area, become a concern of the past. She views these kinds of developments as another way to create an ecosystem of affordable housing to help unsheltered people find permanent homes.
Correction • March 22, 2023, 10 a.m.: This story has been updated to correct the Wasatch Front Regional Council’s financial contribution.
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.