Michael Fife: City’s Fleet Block should become a park

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) People observing social distancing in Sugar House Park in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, April 15, 2020.

When the Utah Legislature decided in the 1940s to move the state prison from Sugar House to Draper, they could have decided to subdivide and sell the prison site for residential or commercial development and make some money for the state.

Instead, they voted in 1947 to create what we know today as Sugar House Park. Sugar House would be a much different place today without the recreational opportunities Sugar House Park provides due to the Legislature’s foresight.

Salt Lake City is facing a similar decision today.

I was on the Salt Lake City Planning Commission when the Downtown Master Plan was adopted in May 2016. My only real disappointment with the plan, which I expressed at the time, was the lack of open space envisioned in the plan to provide recreational opportunities for all the new proposed residents and workers.

Initially the plan had included the idea of a large amount of open space on the west side of downtown, along the I-15 corridor but over time that was reduced and finally eliminated, replaced by the concept of a Green Loop, i.e. planted medians similar to the linear park west of Gateway, which is a nice landscaping feature but hardly a serious recreation opportunity.

The coronavirus has laid bare many inequities in society, and one of these inequities is the lack of green space in some areas of our city. While many of us can retire to our back yards to get some relief from the pandemic, apartment and condo residents were castigated early on for congregating in city parks. Apparently, they were supposed to exist for weeks on end inside their tiny dwellings, many without even a balcony or patio space.

Salt Lake City has the opportunity to go some way toward rectifying this inequity by providing a new large park space to support all the new development occurring west and south of downtown. The city owns an entire block between 300 and 400 West and 800 and 900 South, right on the border of the Granary and Central Ninth Districts.

The former home of the city’s fleet, the Fleet Block is currently undergoing the process to rezone the property to encourage commercial development on the block. But Salt Lake City is not lacking in development opportunities. In close proximity to the Fleet Block, the Post District is under construction, Industry SLC has extensive development plans, all of Central Ninth seems to be a construction site, and north and south along 300 West property is being snapped up for development at a rapid pace.

What the Granary/Central Ninth area needs from Salt Lake City is not another development opportunity. What the area cries out for is a green oasis in the midst of all this new housing and commercial development. A place where all the new residents and employees can find recreational opportunities and connection to the natural world.

Salt Lake City is uniquely positioned to provide this amenity by deciding not to turn the Fleet Block into one more construction site, but rather creating a large new green space in the midst of all the new development.

I urge Mayor Mendenhall and the Salt Lake City Council to end the effort to rezone the Fleet Block for commercial development, and instead designate the block open space, making an investment in the future and creating a new 10 acre park on the Fleet Block.

Generations will thank them for their vision.

Michael Fife

Michael Fife is a resident of Poplar Grove and a former chair and member of the Salt Lake City Planning Commission.