Salt Lake City to bring family-size housing units to former police HQ

City announces new partnership to renovate the historic former Public Safety Building and build 244 dwellings, a quarter of them available as rent-to-own.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) The former Public Safety Building in Salt Lake City on Monday, June 3, 2024.

Salt Lake City’s former Public Safety Building at 315 E. 200 South may at last be converted into a neighborhood-transforming housing project.

After a lengthy quest, the city announced Tuesday it had chosen its own housing agency to redevelop what is also known as the historic and architecturally iconic Northwest Pipeline Building and adjacent properties into a sizable downtown residential hub to be known as The Grove.

The Housing Authority of Salt Lake City, through its development arm, and other partners plan to rehabilitate the 66-year-old former city public safety complex and construct two other high-rises — to be called the Hawthorne and the Lupine — for a total of 244 mostly two- and three-bedroom units, many of them suited for working families and available on a rent-to-own basis.

(Salt Lake City) A rendering of The Grove, a new residential development planned around Salt Lake City's vintage Northwest Pipeline Building at 315 E. 200 South, which is to be saved and rehabilitated as part of the project.

Up to 16,000 square feet of ground-floor space in The Grove will host community-fortifying services such as child care, a medical clinic, sources of healthy food, car- and bike-sharing facilities and small locally owned shops. Plans also include walkable green spaces in the block’s interior and new public art.

Officials estimate an overall price tag approaching $165 million, with its first dwellings expected to be available for rent as early as 2025.

Located along a newly authorized bus rapid transit line, officials say The Grove promises to “complete” that neck of the city as a neighborhood as Utah’s capital continues to add residential population.

Talks are underway among the housing authority, its proposed New York-based construction partner Xylem Projects and consultants, and officials with the city’s Community and Neighborhoods Department to finalize financing and construction plans.

“We’re thrilled,” the department’s director, Blake Thomas, said of the prospect of delivering family-size housing at what he called “an unrivaled spot” on that 200 South corridor.

In officially announcing the partnership Tuesday afternoon, Mayor Erin Mendenhall said in terms of homeownership and building equity, “this will be a unique model, and will be transforming lives, allowing more residents to realize even more of their opportunities.”

City Council member Eva Lopez Chavez, whose District 4 spans that part of downtown, said “we have won, because we get new neighbors here today.

“Our community desires it to be transformed,” she said, “from a dead space that is a void of activity to a hub that enhances our already-thriving community.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) The former Public Safety Building in Salt Lake City on Monday, June 3, 2024.

This latest milestone caps a nearly nine-year odyssey to find a viable development partnership for the preservation and adaptive reuse of the Northwest Pipeline Building, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2011.

The news also comes as the city grapples with a shortage of homes available at all price levels.

Vintage building gets saved

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) The former Public Safety Building in Salt Lake City on Monday, June 3, 2024.

The office building was originally constructed by Pacific Northwest Pipeline as its headquarters in the late 1950s and was bought by the city in 1979. The eight-story, 95,000-square-foot structure is considered a marquee example of International Style design, one of two in Utah’s capital, and housed city police, dispatch and firefighting operations for decades.

It has been empty since late 2015, when the last remaining city employees housed there moved to the then-new $125 million Public Safety Building at 475 S. 300 East.

Vaunted in its day as a sign of the city’s growing commercial status, the Northwest Pipeline Building is considered sister structure to historic First Security Bank Building at 405 S. Main, also known as the Ken Garff Building.

Preservation Utah had designated the building as a “high concern” for potential demolition, partly due to its deteriorated condition.

The new plans call for overhauling the structure for residential uses and to optimize its energy efficiency. Officials said plans may ultimately include four-bedroom, as well as two- and three-bedroom, units, helping to meet city goals for making downtown more amenable to families.

A quarter of units to be rent-to-own

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) The former Public Safety Building in Salt Lake City on Monday, June 3, 2024.

The city owns the vintage former cop shop and two others properties at that location, totaling about 2.4 acres, more than half of it surface parking. The lots are zoned for residential and mixed uses and assessed at a total value of about $22 million, a figure likely well below its actual market value.

The city will consider selling or leasing the land at a discount, among other potential subsidies, as part of the project’s overall financing, officials said, subject to negotiation and approval by the City Council.

“Nothing is guaranteed or really finalized in any way,” said Tammy Hunsaker, the city’s deputy director of community services, who has been privy to the selection process.

The housing authority’s development arm, Housing Assistance Management Enterprise, also plans to use historic-rehabilitation tax credits as part of the project’s financing.

Along with saving the historic building, Thomas said, the new partnership aims to develop the site sustainably, bring new commercial services to that neighborhood and, more importantly, offer homeownership opportunities by gradually converting rental units in the complex to condominiums via rent-to-own.

Fully a quarter of the project’s 244 units will be available for ownership to those earning below the region’s median incomes, while about 40% will rent at market rates.

Filling a ‘hole in the doughnut’

Dan Nackerman, the nonprofit housing authority’s executive director, said its partnership “really embraced” a vision for combining historic preservation, adding downtown housing, activating street fronts and meeting community needs.

“We kind of call this the ‘hole in the doughnut’ of that particular neighborhood,” Nackerman said. “It’s going to make a very big impact with this team, as a key transportation spot and as a safer and more vibrant neighborhood.”

The nonprofit agency is not a city department, although the mayor appoints its governing board members. The 54-year-old authority owns 35 properties citywide, housing approximately 11,000 residents nightly.

“We love the city,” Nackerman said, “and the city loves us.”

He said several of the agency’s public funding tools, including discount rental vouchers, would be leveraged as part of the project’s financing to help guarantee long-term affordability for many of the units.

Homes ‘for working folks’

Eleven in- and out-of-state developers submitted proposals for the Northwest Pipeline Building renovation, and those were vetted by a 10-member committee made up of city officials, historic preservationists, architectural experts and community-based groups.

Nnenna Lynch, owner of Xylem Projects, a real estate development firm focused on housing preservation and mixed-use projects, said it now planned extensive community outreach to test many of its ideas with community members.

“Our approach,” Lynch said in an interview, “is to create ownership housing for middle-income and working folks and families of Salt Lake along with much needed services and open spaces.”

“Where other see blight,” she said, “we see opportunity.”

The firm also is designing the project in context with existing nearby housing, including The Magnolia, at 165 S. 300 East, which may combine some of its parking into an underground structure planned at The Grove.

The city floated the idea of a public-private partnership to develop the site in 2015, through its Redevelopment Agency, but the project languished until the city launched a revived request for proposals process last year.

Former U.S. Rep. Ben McAdams, who is also founder and CEO of a consulting firm called the Common Ground Institute, was hired by the city to study and inventory vacant city properties that might be put to productive use. The institute is now among the housing authority’s consulting partners on building The Grove.

McAdams, who also served under former Mayor Ralph Becker when relocation of the cop shop was being considered, said plans for the Northwest Pipeline Building brought the site “full circle,” with the prospect of not serving nearby residents and luring newcomers, particularly with its much-needed child care services.

“It’s really exciting to see the city prioritizing the preservation of this building,” he said, “in a way that also nods to the future, to sustainability, a place for families and, really, the future of downtown.”