Becker picks Westminster to buy old Garfield School
The Salt Lake Tribune
Updated: 10/13/2009 10:42:57 PM MDT
By Derek P. Jensen
Calling the public process "unprecedented," Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker announced his intent late Tuesday to sell the old Garfield School in Sugar House to Westminster College.
The choice ushers in an expansion of the private liberal-arts college two blocks east of 1300 East, a move some deem appropriate and others label "outrageous."
It also spells the end for two alternate proposals for Garfield: a Montessori-style school and a condo/bungalow housing project.
Becker said his decision and the conditions placed on the surplus property at 1838 S. 1500 East -- valued at $2.2 million -- are "all based on the clear site parameters and recommendations from the public and the selection committee. ... Some will be satisfied with the final decision and some will not."
A ream of e-mails and other correspondence collected at City Hall suggests the latter.
"Westminster would certainly cause the most havoc in many ways to this family-friendly street," Patricia Wolley writes.
"I am certain many families will move from the neighborhood, myself included," Dave Lowe warns. "You would not want a college springing up a satellite campus in your neighborhood, and neither do we."
A number of responses favored a sale to the college. But both passed-over development teams argued the deal was greased and insisted the open-bid process was insincere.
"I'd like to see a transparent process that is something that's in the best interest of the residents in the neighborhood and not just something that you know [is] sort of a back-door deal," says Hal Crimmell, who lives seven doors down.
Still, the mayor notes having an open bid for surplus property is itself novel. He points to a spring Planning Commission hearing and an open house, as well as a public-feedback window that was extended by several days.
"Salt Lake City has far exceeded the requirements for public participation," Becker writes in a memo explaining the sale. "This early notice and the opportunities for review and comment have been unprecedented."
Westminster -- which plans to house a graduate program, continuing-education center and possible day care at Garfield -- rejects the notion of special treatment and emphasizes it will preserve the school's historic nature and protect the banks of nearby Emigration Creek.
In other city news
The City Council, acting as the Redevelopment Agency Board, approved three contracts Tuesday for developers pursuing downtown projects. Garfield Traub Swisher Development and Hamilton Partners got the nod for a planned Broadway-class theater on Main. The LaPorte Group was selected to overhaul low-income properties between 235 and 257 South State Street. And CSI Property Management will redo the Rio Grande Hotel, 428 W. 300 South.