Will city have say in stadium development?

By By Rochelle McConkie

By Rochelle McConkie

Community members said the city should have a say in plans for the possible “Universe Project” — a mixed-use development in the west end of the Rice-Eccles Stadium parking lot the U hopes to include in its Campus Master Plan.

The project would be built on university property, making it under the state’s jurisdiction, but neighbors to the site told the Salt Lake City Planning Commission at last night’s meeting that the U should consider the effects the development would have on transportation, housing and nearby businesses — all city issues.

The Universe Project would include retail stores, restaurants, offices and university housing, as well as a parking structure adjacent to the development.

“The city has standing to investigate these issues,” said Steve Alder of the Sunnyside East Neighborhood Association. “We are not to a point to know the impacts.”

Mike Perez, associate vice president for facilities management, said the U doesn’t have all the answers for the project yet because there are not specific plans for it at this time. The university needs to hire a developer to design the project, as well as determine its scope, set a timeline for building and fund the project.

The plans for the project would have to be approved by the U Board of Trustees, the State Board of Regents, the Utah State Building Board and the Utah State Legislature before construction could begin.

Once the developer team is selected, Perez said the U will solicit more community input.

“We hope to have a dialogue with the interested parties to assist us,” Perez said. “It’s currently a broad concept.”

Residents at the meeting urged the commission to look into implications the development might have on traffic patterns around the stadium, which they said are tricky to begin with because of the TRAX stop, people driving out of the parking lot and traffic on 500 South.

Perez said the project is meant to bring life to the Stadium TRAX stop by creating a “hub” for student activity and a more inviting atmosphere for people entering campus than the asphalt that currently exists. With close proximity to TRAX and bus stops, Perez said the project would benefit public transportation.

Lawrence Eckman, who lives at 1100 East and 400 South, said his front curb is a “park and ride” for students on their way to school, and he’s not sure the development will persuade more students to use TRAX. Eckman said the U and city planners need to do transportation studies before making designs.

Mike Colby, who lives half a block west of the site, said he’s in favor of the project because it would make the area more visually appealing. He said he would support any proposal “so long as it looks better than it does now.”

“The parking lot that exists now is an eyesore,” Colby said. “I’m happy the university is trying to make some use of it.”

The U presented the project to the Salt Lake City Historic Landmark Commission last week, which expressed concerns because the project would be built in the University Historic District and would affect property value in the area. Perez said the U is well aware of the location in the historic community, as well as the natural setting, and would try to preserve both.

Nick Norris, principal planner of the commission, said the city views the development as a “pilot project” and new way to enhance relationships between the city and the university. Other members of the commission said they need to clarify what the city’s role in the project will be before it can successfully move forward.

Esther Hunter, senior adviser to Mayor Ralph Becker, said the city is excited because the project will be located in a key area for businesses and schools. She said the project is forging new ground, but they will have to evaluate the process to see if they can do it again.

Cindy Cromer, a landlord of property adjacent to the U, questioned whether the U would be exempt from city statutes if private developers were involved.

“The train is pulling out of the TRAX station, and I’m not on board,” Cromer said.

[email protected]