Plans call for Utah’s first family to be completely separated from the public

Master plan would add an underground parking garage, shielding comings and goings of first family.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Glendinning Mansion, at right, is on the same block as the Governor's Mansion, left. A proposed security plan would turn the block in to a virtual fortress, with Glendinning Mansion — which now serves as offices for the Utah Division of Arts & Museums — serving as the public entrance to the Governor's Mansion compound.

Plans are in the works to turn the block along Salt Lake City’s South Temple, where the Governor’s Mansion sits, into a virtual fortress for Utah’s first family.

The proposal comes just months after the state finished upgrading the security at Gov. Spencer Cox’s private home in Fairview, in Sanpete County. That project — which included a fence around the property’s perimeter, wrought iron gates and a new building to house his security detail — cost Utah taxpayers more than $600,000.

Last month, the Executive Residence Commission approved a proposed master plan containing massive security upgrades for the entire block between G and H streets on South Temple, including a new underground parking garage to shield the comings and goings of the governor and his family.

The Salt Lake Tribune asked for the roughly 900-page master plan through an open records request, but was told the document discussed during the commission’s August public meeting was still in draft form. State officials said they would provide a copy after it had been finalized.

According to the presentation given to commission members last month, Glendinning Mansion — which now houses the main offices of the Utah Division of Arts and Museums and the state-run Alice Gallery — would become a command post for the governor’s security detail.

Glendinning Mansion was originally slated to house the administrative staff for the executive mansion, but that plan was scrapped after planners realized the “strategic nature” of the building, according to minutes from the commission’s August meeting.

The Alice Gallery, inside Glendinning Mansion, is the only remaining state-owned art gallery open in Utah’s capital city, with the final gallery stroll scheduled for this Friday, Sept. 16. The Arts & Museums staff are moving to temporary offices on Highland Drive, and had been scheduled to be out by Nov. 11 — but on Thursday, the division’s director, Victoria Panella Bourns, said the moving date has been delayed until January, because the new office space would not be ready by November.

Jim Russell, with the Department of Facilities Construction and Management, told The Tribune there have been issues at the Governor’s Mansion with “separating public and private spaces for the first family.” Under the master plan, Glendinning Mansion would become the public entrance and screening area for the Governor’s Mansion campus.

The building would also house flexible office space. The plan provides living quarters and office space for the governor’s security on the second floor. A 1950s addition to Glendenning Mansion would be removed, and the east side of the structure restored to its original look.

The carriage house, which sits directly north of the Governor’s Mansion, is now only used as a garage and for storage. Under the plan, the first floor would become a multipurpose space for events or parties. A patio is slated on the south side of the building, so events could use the great lawn between the Governor’s Mansion and the Glendenning building.

Other parts of the carriage house would be renovated to provide office space that could be used by the first spouse or if the governor needed extra office space.

The north side of the governor’s mansion, which is now a parking area, would become a private outdoor space for the first family, with a screen or barrier to keep them from public view. That privacy could help avoid embarrassing situations, like when former Gov. Gary Herbert was roundly criticized for holding an event at the mansion in July 2020 where guests were observed not wearing masks, which were mandatory at the time because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Three properties not owned by the state now sit on the block’s northwest corner. The plan recommends those properties be purchased and either torn down or repurposed.

The underground parking, accessible through yet-to-be-constructed ramps, would provide access to the state-owned buildings on the property, away from the public’s prying eyes. Creating a private drop-off area for the governor and their family members was the top priority listed by the committee during its June meeting.

“This allows the first family to be able to get in and out of cars, be able to come and go out of the mansion without the public knowing their schedules,” Travis Sheppard of GSBS Architects, which produced the plan, said during the August meeting.

The Governor’s Mansion was originally called the Kearns Mansion, completed in 1902 by Park City silver tycoon and U.S. Senator Thomas Kearns and his wife, Jennie. The senator died in 1918, and some years later Mrs. Kearns donated the home to be the governor’s residence — a role it filled from 1937 to 1957 and from 1978 to today.

Members of the commission, including first lady Abby Cox, visited governor’s mansions in several states, including Florida, Louisiana, Arkansas, Kentucky and Colorado before the commission’s June meeting. According to publicly available documents, the state budgeted $300,000 to come up with the master plan for the mansion block.

When the pricey publicly funded upgrades at Cox’s private home were first reported, he admitted he did not spend much time at the official mansion in Salt Lake City because his home in Fairview “is the only place I can be me and feel connected to the soil and soul of our state.”

Legislative leaders did not publicly disclose the appropriation for security improvements at Cox’s home in the budget when they initially approved spending the cash in 2021. Cox claimed he reimbursed the state, but has not yet produced evidence that he has made such payments.

With the state fresh off a costly refit of the governor’s private property, members of the commission seem sensitive to the optics of spending even more on his official residence. The committee approved adding language to the master plan emphasizing the plan was not created for the current administration.

“What we are undertaking is not for the sole benefit of the existing first family,” commission chair Jesselie Anderson said in August. “It’s long-term. It’s for whoever serves in that office.”

Gov. Spencer Cox’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

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