Universe Project bad for school, community

By By Steven Warrick and By Steven Warrick

By Steven Warrick

The proposed Universe Project is attractive and appealing in some ways but has a number of problems that drown out its positive aspects.

The concept of a multi-use development at the Stadium TRAX station is, by itself, both exciting and innovative. However, the project should benefit rather than burden both the U and the neighborhood. Too many other interests would be subordinated to the Universe Project, particularly at the proposed location.

The Universe Project is a development proposed to be built on the site of the parking lot to the west of Rice-Eccles Stadium. It would have office space, retail stores, a cinema, a grocery store, housing and a parking garage. In addition, the University Campus Store would be moved there from its current central location.

The various illustrations and descriptions available on the U’s Web site show a facility that would be interesting, beautiful and vibrant. Unfortunately, it would also have its downsides.

Relocating the bookstore to the extreme southwest corner of campus, as Wikstrom Economic and Planning Consultants suggest in its Universe Market Study, would make it considerably less convenient for most U students and employees. The central location Wikstrom decries as having “limited parking and (difficult) access” is close to Marriott Library, the Union and most of the classroom buildings.

Most of the community members who attended the first of three Universe Project Community Workshops at the Rice-Eccles Tower on Jan. 29 were less than pleased with the prospect of the development. They were concerned about the adverse effects the project would have on things such as property value, parking and the current neighborhood businesses.

The health of such businesses is important to the U community in general, as well as the immediate neighborhood. Most universities have adjacent areas with interesting local shops and restaurants that give those areas a distinctive flavor and atmosphere. For example, the University of Virginia has “The Corner” in Charlottesville, the University of Colorado has “The Hill” in Boulder and Berkeley’s Central Business District near the University of California provides areas of interest.

The analogous business area near the U is very small in comparison, but still important. The Wikstrom study addresses the long term economic future of the U community and greater Salt Lake area. It also looks at the general purchasing patterns of the area. It fails, however, to adequately predict how much of business establishments such as The Pie Pizzeria and B & D Burgers would be spread to the businesses at the Universe Project. The retailers at the project could run such local establishments out of business and then leave, which some of the critics at the Jan. 29 Community Workshop predicted.

Also, there is the loss of the Rice-Eccles Stadium parking lot. There are several places on campus where the Universe Project could be located, but there is no location for a stadium parking lot other than where it is now.

The stadium is, quoting the U’s own Web site, “the premier stadium of the Intermountain region.” As well as being the home of the uncrowned national champion Ute football team, it hosted the 2002 Winter Olympics and a Rolling Stones concert, among many other events in its history. Depriving such a facility of its main parking lot would be a real waste.

There is supposed to be no net loss of parking spaces, but this information is misleading. The new spaces in parking towers would be considerably less convenient. In addition, parking towers could not be used as a staging area as the present parking lot is.

Finally, the project would entail increased demand for the number of parking spaces. U alumna and Crimson Club member Kim Hale said he felt concerned about the parking shift.

“If this cuts into the tailgate lot, this will be unacceptable,” he said.

U community members should attend the next two Community Workshops to oppose this project. It is bad for both the U and the community.

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Correction: U alumnus and Crimson Club member Kim Hale was identified as a female in this column’s first release, but Hale is a male.

Steve Warrick