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Salt Lake City's Sugarhouse to become another stripmall.
Sugarhouse is a local suburban district of Salt Lake City. This area which was struggling 20 years ago with many run-down homes, vacancies and low property values is today thriving. As part of a national trend, people are moving in closer to cities and fixing up the older homes that offer more character than your typical new stucco, aluminum clad home. The homes in this area are in large part 50-year-old bungalows and the neighborhood is today a hot area.
For a few years the business district of Sugarhouse wasn't really following suite. However, in the past two years the center of Sugarhouse, called the Granite block, has filled in completely with local shops and pedestrian traffic. People of all ages stroll down the lane looking in the shop windows or sipping coffee out on a patio at Sugarhouse Coffee. Soren Simonson, a newly elected Salt Lake City Council Member who works in urban planning and development says, " One of the interesting things about Sugarhouse is that people from Idaho to Nevada to Arizona look at Sugarhouse as a model for a walkable community."
Most area residents agree that these small local shops make the area what it is: charming. Consequently, home real-estate values have skyrocketed and many residents of the area have been cashing in by flipping homes reaping big profits. Today many business landowners are cashing in as well. More and more local shops are being sold by landlords for redevelopment for greater profit potential.
It's clear to see the landowners incentives, if they ask local merchants to vacate and demolish their older buildings they can reap great rewards by rebuilding bigger, newer buildings. However the new tenants are almost never local merchants. The last new development in Sugarhouse attracted only chain stores. Piccadilly Fish & Chips was torn down to build a large retail environment that now houses a Sprint cellular phone store, a Pancake House chain, Bajio and a Paridise Bakery. These businesses all seem to be thriving, so why are area residents protesting and complaining?
The over-flow crowd at the last Salt Lake City Council meeting made a clear statement to the representatives who they had elected: people don't like what is happening. Out with the old, in with the new is not the reason people moved to Sugarhouse. A six-year-old girl walked up to the microphone, and said, "I've lived in Sugarhouse my whole life and I don't want you to tear it down, I like it just the way it is."
It was clear from other voices at the meeting that community members were venting their anger towards the Council members who had recently voted unaimously to rezone the Granite block so developers could build a six-story condominium outdoor life center. The City Council gave the community 30 minutes, 2 minutes per person to vent their frustration, but they made it clear beforehand that they have no intention of making any changes to their rezoning decision.
Another reason for support of the local the local merchants is because the economic facts on the matter are clear. Nearly every study comparing local shops to chain stores arises to the same conclusion. Booting out local merchants for tax revenue incentives doesn't pay off. Chain stores provide sixty percent fewer dollars back into the local economy than local shops. When a chain store opens shop in a area sixty percent of the profit goes back to the National headquarters only forty percent is redistributed locally. However both land owners and City Council members by-in-large don't see it this way. This trend of catering to chain stores and big boxes has been going on for years.
Thirty years ago local merchants in Salt Lake City were fighting the City Council and land developers over the decision to build the Crossroads Mall across the street from the ZCMI mall on Main Street. These malls were touted to save Main Street, to make the street and area a thriving district focused on the future, the malls were part of a master plan called the "twentieth century plan." Proponents of the idea claimed that with shops organized inside of the mall buildings would provide shoppers warmth in the winter and cool in the summer. All could enjoy more comfort without the clutter of street signs all competing for the attention of pedestrians. Further cripling local merchants, the city passed ordinances to remove overhanging storefront signs attempting to make the sidewalk and street more beautiful. These malls were built and as Alan Barnett, Utah Historian puts it, "[the malls] sucked all of the character charm and retail vitality out of the street." All local merchants besides a select few that were not in one of the two malls withered and died.
Today these malls are being torn down and being replaced by what looks like from initial plans to be another outdoor life center, attracting anchors such as Nordstroms and Macys. So will local charm and culture always lose the battle to profits and chain stores? It doesn't seem in Utah at least that there is any regression of this trend.
Richard Markosian operates
<a href="http://www.utahstories.com/">UtahStories.com</a>. A website dedicated to giving citizens and local merchants a stronger voice in the community and government.
I'm not sure what to think about this project yet til I see some renderings.
__________________ Top Three Tallest Buildings in downtown SLC
1. "Wells Fargo Building" 24-stories 422 FT
2. "LDS Church Office Building" 28-stories 420 FT
3. "The Promontory @ City Creek" 30-stories 375 FT
I don't have any pictures of Sugarhouse, but I love it. It is very unique in the diversity of shops that it offers. The shops and the buildings are what make Sugarhouse Sugarhouse. Despite what the new development looks like the character and feel of Sugarhouse will be forever changed. It is a sad situation.
I agree that Sugarhouse needs some additional housing, but not at the expense of the heart of the neighborhood.
Crunching the numbers for my first project. Looking for investors.
For what it's worth, SugarHouse is my home and I'm really nervous about what they want to do with this area. What makes SugarHouse neat is the fact nearly every business located on the main drag is locally owned. It's a very hip, young area that caters to college students and people in their 30s.
If this turns out to be a development that brings in nothing but chain stores, SugarHouse will lose its charm and become a typical Salt Lake Valley strip mall. Blah.
"Citizens of Utah: stimulation of the C-WORD is not recommended"