State to pay $4.5 million to buy Deseret Industries thrift store from Mormon church for homeless shelter

Shoppers can continue patronizing the store on 700 South until Nov. 30.

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) The Deseret Industries store at 131 E. 700 South, currently owned by the LDS Church, is expected to be sold to the nonprofit Shelter the Homeless for construction of a homeless resource center. This photo was taken Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016.

Utah will fund the purchase of a downtown thrift store owned and operated by the Mormon church for $4.46 million following negotiations on the final of three future homeless shelters to be opened by July 2019.

Janell Fluckiger, executive director of the nonprofit Shelter the Homeless, which will own the two sites in Salt Lake City and one in South Salt Lake, told members of a state homeless committee the church would operate the thrift store through Nov. 30 before selling it to the nonprofit. 

Construction would then begin almost immediately under the framework approved by the State Homeless Coordinating Committee on Tuesday, which continued moving ahead with plans to close the large homeless shelter in the Rio Grande neighborhood and reopen three scattered and smaller sites within two years.

“They’re going to keep that property and continue to lease it as long as they can,” Fluckiger said of the church‘s nonprofit business at 131 E. 700 S. 

The Salt Lake County Assessor’s Office values the property at $2.7 million – $1.4 million for the land and $1.3 million for the building. Fluckiger said the property was appraised at $4.7 million, but noted Salt Lake City led negotiations into the purchase. The city originally sought to purchase a site for a women’s shelter near the Sugar House neighborhood for $7 million before backing away.

Once the business is closed, construction will begin quickly and ”all interests in the property will revert to the state” if ”substantial construction” isn’t completed by June 30, 2018.

The existing building – along with the building at 275 W. High Ave – will be demolished and replaced with the new shelters by May 2019, according to a timeline Fluckiger provided at Tuesday’s meeting. 

PROPERTY PRICES<br>131 E. 700 So. • $4.6 million<br>275 W. High Ave. • $3.2 million<br>3380 So. 1000 W. • $570,275<br>

The site in South Salt Lake at 3380 S. 1000 W. is vacant. Shelter the Homeless paid $3.2 million for the High Avenue site and $570,275 for the South Salt Lake land. The High Avenue site is valued at $1 million, and the vacant land near the Salt Lake County jail is valued at $250,000, assessor’s records show.

The two shelters in Salt Lake City will be 60,000 square feet each. The Deseret Industries site will host 200 women and the High Avenue site will host a mix of 200 men and women. The 90,000-square-foot shelter in South Salt Lake will host 300 homeless men.

There wasn’t much discussion before the committee unanimously approved the purchase prices. 

During a recent meeting of the Shelter the Homeless board, developer Kem Gardner let loose information that the Mormon church planned to make a donation after the sale of the property.

Recounting his conversation with Bishop Dean Davies, the first counselor in the LDSChurch’s Presiding Bishopric, Gardner said: “He said, ‘Kem, let’s do it this way: you buy the ground, let me see what I need to do in the whole scope of what you have to do, and we’ll make a very generous donation.” Gardner said of his conversation with Bishop Dean Davies, the first counselor in the LDS Church’s Presiding Bishopric.

A spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday on the sale.

The inclusion of the construction deadlines indicates state, city, county and other officials working on improving homelessness services are hoping to quickly make inroads on helping a population visibly struggling with addiction, among other issues.

Detox center in Murray

Kathy Bray, president and CEO of the Volunteers of America, Utah, said the group is hoping to reopen a facility in Murray for single women and women with children who are suffering from addiction. An existing facility was staffed around the clock until it closed for lack of funding in May 2014.

Bray estimated it would cost $1.2 million annually to operate the center, which has 28 beds. The committee has already approved providing $1 million for renovating the facility in preparation for its reopening. 

“It would essentially be a second detox center in Salt Lake County,” Bray said. ”The need is so great, the demand is so high right now to help people to come off alcohol, heroin, methamphetamine, and we have a lot of momentum around reducing homelessness numbers.”

If its board approves, Bray said, the organization could reopen the facility by next summer.