UTA may move into three floors of a proposed 12-story tower

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) UTA Board Chairman Carlton Christensen speaks as officials celebrate the 20th anniversary of TRAX trains during a news conference at the City Creek Trax stop on Main Street in Salt Lake City, Dec. 4, 2019.

The Utah Transit Authority thinks it may have found a perfect tenant for part of a proposed 12-story office tower that it envisions for a new “transit-oriented development” at its Salt Lake City Central Station at 340 S. 600 West.

Who? Itself.

While its 54-year-old headquarters nearby at 669 W. 200 South rode out last week’s 5.7 magnitude earthquake without structural damage, UTA recently completed a study that says the building needs significant seismic upgrades to prevent loss in a major quake and ensure continued operations.

The UTA Board heard a report Wednesday that those upgrades would cost about $11 million. Entirely replacing the current building where it now stands would cost about $17 million, officials said. Both options would cause problems with temporary relocation of staff while construction occurred.

A third option proposed by UTA executives is to move the headquarters into the planned new transit-oriented development at the nearby FrontRunner/TRAX station, specifically into three stories of a proposed 12-story office tower there.

“UTA’s portion would cost between $15.7 million and $20 million,” said Paul Drake, UTA director of real estate and transit-oriented developments.

UTA could own that portion of the building as sort of a condominium, and form a partnership that could allow it a share of leases paid by other tenants, he said.

That would provide UTA with 100,000 square feet of space on three floors, compared to the 80,000 it has in the current building, to allow for future growth needs.

Transit-oriented developments, or TODs, are retail, residential and office projects adjacent to transit stations that designed to increase ridership — and UTA has entered into several such partnerships previously by providing unused land it owns for a share of profits. But the agency landed in a series of scandals with them that were criticized by state audits, mainly involving sweetheart deals with developers and conflicts of interests with past board members.

UTA said it and the Salt Lake City Redevelopment Agency had worked together on a plan to help revitalize the neighborhood around the Salt Lake City Central Station, which is now a rundown industrial area. Plans include a proposal for a TOD with several buildings and a large parking garage that could be developed jointly, and it includes that envisioned 12-story tower.

The UTA Board likes the idea enough that in its Wednesday meeting members seemed ready to discard the other options for renovation or replacing the current headquarters in place.

With that, UTA executives said they would continue to work with the city’s redevelopment agency and possibly soon put out a request for proposals from developers interested in the TOD. Drake said the building could even be completed in about three years — with about 18 months needed for planning and other work, and 18 months for construction.

Executives said they would return to the board again for a green light before proceeding with the request for proposals.

UTA Board Chairman Carlton Christensen said he has several questions he wants addressed. He says he’s hesitant to hire a developer to build a building that UTA itself would use, and wants more information about how partial ownership would work. He also questions how much that would restrict UTA’s use and control of its own headquarters.

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