These are troubled times in American politics, the director of the Orrin G. Hatch Foundation said Wednesday, with innovation silenced by partisanship and the nation’s ability to solve problems arrested by divisions.
But Utah’s senior U.S. senator is offering hope, in the form of a planned academic and policy center in Salt Lake City to be named in honor of the seven-term Republican, who has announced he will retire in January.
“There is a dangerous force at play bringing America to a tipping point,” Hatch Foundation director Trent Christensen said Wednesday in announcing details on the venture. “Tensions have risen well past normal rhetorical jousting and political posturing.”
The new Hatch Center, to be built at the intersection of D Street and South Temple in Salt Lake City’s Avenues neighborhood, was described in glowing terms as an incubator of public policy, bipartisan think tank, reception space and repository of Hatch’s personal library of legislative records.
Center organizers met with representatives of the University of Utah to sign a memorandum of understanding and purchase agreement for the property, which is currently a university-owned parking lot with space for roughly 25 vehicles.
News of the center and the U.’s involvement was first reported Monday by The Salt Lake Tribune.
In an event Wednesday near the future site, U. President Ruth Watkins said the university’s Hinckley Institute of Politics and Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute will partner with the Hatch Center. She thanked Hatch for his years of service to Utahns and pointed out that more than 300 U. students have interned for the senator since he was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1976.
“This center has the potential to significantly advance public service and civil leadership for generations to comes,” Watkins said.
Hatch noted that in his 42 years of service, he’s accumulated “quite a bit of history” that he would like to share with Utahns and out-of-state visitors.
“Together,” Hatch said, “we can restore civility, respect and bipartisanship to the public square.”
Construction is expected to begin this summer, Christensen said. He declined to commit to a specific timeline but added that there are hopes the center can be completed early next year, when Hatch wraps up his current term.
“We’d love to have the building built for Sen. Hatch when he arrives,” Christensen said. “This is going to be the highest quality, and we want to make sure we do it right.”
Included in the plans are personal offices for Hatch on the first floor, for writing memoirs, entertaining guests and meeting with political and judicial leaders, according to Kem Gardner, a member of the Orrin G. Hatch Foundation board and chairman of The Gardner Co., a major Utah real-estate development firm.
That first floor will also include a full-size replica of Hatch’s Senate office in Washington, similar to replicas of the Oval Office built at some presidential libraries.
“The only thing wrong with it is it may not be big enough,” Gardner said of the building plans. “We’re going to address that.”
The purchase agreement signed Wednesday calls for the Hatch Foundation to pay “market value” to the U. for the South Temple property. U. spokesman Chris Nelson said the site is currently appraised at $850,000.