Universe Project businesses to be taxed, U says

By By Edgar Zuniga

By Edgar Zuniga

Stores and restaurants in the proposed development in the Rice-Eccles Stadium parking lot, known as the Universe Project, will not be tax-exempt, U officials said.

“Businesses in the development that make a profit will be taxed properly,” said U spokeswoman Coralie Alder. “Our tax exemption would not pass to a private developer either.”

The proposal for the mixed-use development on the parking lot in front of the stadium would not fall under the university’s privileged tax qualifications. Normally, the U is exempt from paying taxes because of a Utah tax code that recognizes the university’s “essential government function.”

However, because the mixed-use development would house businesses making a profit, those businesses would have to pay taxes.

The only way parts of the Universe Project could be tax exempt under law is if the U builds an educational facility such as a research center or a building for classes.

If the U were to give money for the completion of the Universe Project, that money would also not be tax-exempt because it would be for commercial purposes, Alder said.

A task force consisting of U administrators and Salt Lake City officials has been making recommendations for the project, which the U Board of Trustees, the State Board of Regents, the Utah State Building Board and the Utah State Legislature would have to approve before construction could begin.

At this point, the U does not have a developer for the project or a determined goal date for the completion of the project.

Administrators have proposed that the project be a combination of student housing with a variety of businesses such as a bookstore and a coffee shop next to the Stadium TRAX stop. Alder said the U would not make any profits with the development.

While administrators have said the project would make the U more inviting to the community, the Community Neighboring Council expressed concerns at a recent meeting that the Universe Project, will create problems for the community and is only being promoted to benefit the U.

“(The Universe Project) is just another traffic generator, and it will create a greater demand for electricity,” said Jim Webster, chair of the Yalecrest Community Council. “The university seems to be immune from city ordinances, and I don’t believe it’s in a mandate for a university to get into commercial developments because a university needs to focus on educating its students.”

Community members have doubts the project will be tax-exempt, he said.

Members of the community council are also unsatisfied with what they consider limited interaction until now between U officials and community members.

Several meetings are scheduled for coming weeks to address concerns from neighbors to the development, as well as from students and other members of the U community who would like to voice their opinion.

[email protected]