Could an iconic public market transform SLC?
By Derek P. Jensen
The Salt Lake Tribune
A developer who stirred Salt Lake City’s east bench into a frenzy about the relocation of the Blue Boutique now wants to transfigure downtown’s southwest tip with an eye-popping year-round public market...
Rendering courtesy of Rinaldo Hunt The entryway to a proposed San Francisco-style public market would feature a signature archway sign near the off-ramp from Interstate 15.
A developer who stirred Salt Lake City’s east bench into a frenzy about the relocation of the Blue Boutique now wants to transfigure downtown’s southwest tip with an eye-popping year-round public market.
Rinaldo Hunt and his property group are pitching a $30 million to $50 million plan to create a San Francisco-style Ferry Building galleria in a cavernous steel foundry alongside 600 South and 500 West.
The vision calls for produce vendors, eateries, an urban agriculture education center, and a tree-lined promenade beneath an iconic “public market” sign visible from Interstate 15’s City Center exit.
Rendering courtesy of Rinaldo Hunt A plan pitched by developer Rinaldo Hunt and a local property group would create a San Francisco-style public market in a warehouse near 600 South and 400 West in downtown Salt Lake City. Here is a view from the southeast parking area at the pedestrian entryway.
At 14 acres, covering nearly two city blocks, the proposed project is almost as big as City Creek Center. And, in terms of transformative potential for the warehouse-laden granary district, it’s nearly as ambitious.
Besides creating jobs and vibrancy, Hunt believes an 80,000 square-foot public market would be a triumph to the burgeoning local-food movement as well as Mayor Ralph Becker’s sustainability push.
“It is one of a kind — no one’s done this yet,” Hunt says about his blueprint hugging the city’s gateway. “It can actually be done in this economy. This is basically going to be the mecca for information on urban agriculture.”
Rendering courtesy of Rinaldo Hunt
But questions stack as high as the foundry’s 47-foot ceiling.
Is it too big? Too far from public transit? Would it ruin Pioneer Park’s popular Downtown Farmers Market? Could it really get funded?
For nearly a year, Hunt’s Downtown Salt Lake Public Market LLC has done its homework. The group is made up of property owners from 400 West to 600 West, sandwiched between 600 South and 700 South. They believe the money could be raised through a triple-headed strategy of private cash, Redevelopment Agency dollars, and reinvested taxes through a Community Development Area.
Hunt has a track record, albeit on smaller projects. In recent years he moved the adult novelty shop Blue Boutique and opened Italian restaurant Sea Salt across the street from Emigration Market.
The public market price tag is actually half of Becker’s planned Broadway-style theater on Main Street, though Hunt argues the market would do more to brand Utah’s capital for tourists — not unlike Pike Place Market in Seattle.
The mayor says he is unaware of the proposal, though a representative is scheduled to tour the site Sept. 7 along with 20 city officials.
“It’s a really ambitious idea — I won’t fault the grandiosity of the idea,” says Jason Mathis, executive director of the Downtown Alliance. “But I don’t know that it’s the right thing to do for our community at this time.”
Mathis points out key problems. No doubt a “cool” building, it is four times larger than a consultant recommended in a 2008 feasibility study. It lacks a public-transportation hub. And because the central business district ends at 400 South, he notes there is no way the Alliance could support the project with marketing.
Instead, Mathis says the city should capitalize on the strength of “one of the most successful farmers markets in the country.”
“It would be a shame to draw away from what is going on in the Pioneer Park area right now,” Mathis says, “to support a project that is outside the central business district.”
Hunt argues the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. The 600 South freeway ramp shoots 50,000 cars right by the building each day. More than 425 parking stalls would be available one block east. And if city engineers indeed pursue a streetcar route along 400 West, the market would be easily accessible for TRAX and FrontRunner commuters.
The large scope is also intended to make the market a destination. Large patches have been penciled for retail shops. A two-story residential building, perhaps built with RDA help, is planned. And Hunt hopes to partner with the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food for an outdoor produce area west of the foundry.
To create yet more ambiance — the building would have bay doors and movable windows for an open-air experience —500 West would be narrowed to one lane, sharing space with pedestrians and a possible orchard.
“I’m actually excited about how ambitious it is and the ties with the local food economy,” says downtown City Councilman Luke Garrott. “You don’t want to locate something where it is the single, pioneering project. But due to its scale, it might be the catalyst to spur development in the whole granary, depot district.”
Still, Garrott questions the sprawling parking lot and whether it could be managed without Downtown Alliance help.
In any case, the timing seems right. Plenty of evidence suggests the local food movement is growing in the progressive capital. Two micro-markets popped up this summer: local growers set up weekly produce booths at 9th and 9th and at the Sugar House monument.
More and more restaurants, from Squatters and Tin Angel to Sages and Pago embrace the “pasture to plate” concept. Some buy from backyards. And more residents each year patronize co-ops and local-food providers. Becker also beefed up the city’s food-policy task force recently as part of his sustainability drive.
Claire Uno, executive director of Wasatch Community Gardens, praises Hunt for trying to tap a local food community that already exists. “In theory, I think the idea of some sort of public market for Salt Lake is fantastic,” she says. “People are excited to learn where food comes from and how to grow it.”
The foundering economy has seemingly been a boon to the local food industry. On that front, city leaders have tried, unsuccessfully, to establish a public market near Pioneer Park and the light-rail lines. They briefly considered the warehouse north of the transit hub, though Utah Transit Authority, the building owner, prefers a mix of shops and housing.
Half of the property under the Hunt proposal, from 400 West to 500 West, is part of the Granary District Redevelopment Area. Even so, the RDA does not own any of that property, according to executive director D.J. Baxter.
“We just haven’t had time to absorb it or analyze it,” Baxter says about the public market proposal. One problem he sees: such a large-scale plan would not work at a commercial-market rate because vendors could not afford it.
“It seems like the rates at the market would have to be very low for that to work. That probably requires a nontraditional financial structure,” Baxter says.
Hunt insists his grand market meets more of the city consultants’ marks than it misses. A review of the list reveals that is mostly true.
“What we’re trying to do is direct some tax dollars to create jobs,” Hunt says. “I want the community to be involved. At the end of the day, this is a true representation of the city.”
What’s next? City plans tour
Nearly two dozen city officials have agreed to tour an 80,000 square-foot steel foundry and surrounding property Sept. 7, which a new development group envisions as the Salt Lake City Public Market. The project site, which hugs the 600 South City Center freeway ramp, is just a proposal.