Westminster College of Salt Lake Expansion
Salt Lake eXaminer.com
March 19, 12:05 PM
After a decade-long building frenzy that exhausted its c urrent campus space, Westminster began to acquire other Sugar House property last year, first by its purchasing the old Garfield Elementary School on 1500 East from Salt Lake City, and later Woodbury’s commitment to develop its old offices on 1300 East, just south of 2100 South on their behalf.
Westminster has become a spokesperson for the community by hosting a series of Sugar House Summits, the most recent on February 26, where City Councilman Soren Simonsen quietly conveyed his vision of Sugar House, centered near the Sugar House Shopko store, south of the traditional heart of Sugar House on 1100 East and 2100 South, gleaned from a Salt Lake City-sponsored entourage to Portland last year.
The Salt Lake City Redevelopment Agency (RDA) recently solicited development proposals for undeveloped property on Wilmington Avenue west of 1300 East, immediately south of the Hidden Hollow Nature Park, restored in part by the efforts of Salt Lake City elementary school children. Trails in his picturesque natural habitat link it to surrounding retail and commercial areas including the RDA property.
At the RDA Council Meeting on March 9, 2009, Jeff Woodbury presented his development plans that include two six story buildings to be devoted primarily to Westminster student housing on the top floors with retail and commercial space on the ground levels. He too presented an expanded vision of the area south, eerily similar to Simonsen’s—not surprising since Woodbury was part of that City-sponsored Portland entourage last year.
In a unanimous vote, the Council, including Sugar House area City Council members JT Martin and Simonsen, accepted Woodbury’s plans, over eight other developers, including Craig Mecham, long-thwarted in his efforts to complete a similar development in the heart of Sugar House. Two years later developments combining ground-level retail commercial space with housing above appear to be the new norm.
When asked if his development would be part of a newly centered Sugar House, south of the more traditional one, Woodbury was evasive, stating that he always sees his developments as the “center of the universe.” However, he was joined at the meeting by one of the Olsen family who own the ShopKo area property.
Many have expressed concerns about student housing on the RDA site as well as the other Woodbury property on 1300 East, citing the transient nature of that group versus non-student renters or owner-occupied condominiums, whose tenants are more likely to be committed to and economically invested in the surrounding area.
Residents near the University of Utah have long objected to that institution’s expansion into the surrounding community. Nearby residents expressed similar concerns at the sale of the old Garfield School property to Westminster last summer. Should the center of Sugar House actually shift southward, it could open even greater expansion opportunities for Westminster in the future if zoning were changed within that area.
Overall the Sugar House community was happy that Westminster survived its financial crisis of the 70’s, emerging transformed from an anachronistic liberal-arts college to a state-of-the art institution offering more career-oriented programs and greater flexibility, including many off-site and employer-sponsored campus settings. It watches the ongoing expansion into traditional residential and commercial areas of Sugar House with more wariness.