Community questions Universe Project

By Jed Layton, Former Asst. News Editor

Abby Holden, a resident of 300 South, lives within walking distance of the B&D Burgers restaurant located at 222 S. 1300 East.

Holden is worried that retail stores in the proposed Universe Project, a mixed-use development west of Rice-Eccles Stadium, will force small local businesses such as B&D to close.

“I have seen it before,” Holden said Jan. 29 at a community forum regarding the project. “I saw it happen downtown. Developers bring in huge national retail stores and they force everyone out of business. But in 10 years they will be gone too, off to somewhere more profitable.”

U neighbors and city residents attending the first of three community workshops held at the Rice-Eccles Tower on Jan. 29 asked dozens of questions to U administrators and developers, such as whether the development will be sustainable, how much apartments will cost, what the role of local businesses will be, whether it will affect property value and where they will be able to park.

Mike Perez, U associate vice president for facilities management, and planners tried to give responses to every query. But for some questions, they pulled up short.

“Right now we have a concept and are interested in what the community thinks,” Perez said. “We don’t have all the answers right now, but we will apply good, reasonable comments and questions to the project to make it better.”

Stephen Smith, a planner for GSBS Architects, which is partnering with ICG, said the Universe Project would include two parking garages, a cinema, a grocery store, retail stores, apartment buildings and office space.

The workshop was intended to be an opportunity for community members to talk with each other and members of the development team in round-table discussions.

But the two-hour workshop quickly turned into a question-and-answer session as concerned community members raised hand after hand to inquire into specific details of the Universe Project.

David Pierce, vice president for development and design at Inland American Communities Group Inc., the developer of the Universe Project, said they are still in the early processes.

“We are doing our due diligence and will be gathering a lot of information over the next 90 days,” Pierce said.

Smith said he hopes the Universe Project will enhance retail in other areas, not bring negative competition.

“This project will put residents here, and I am sure they will go down to B&Ds for a burger and go to other local businesses,” he said.

Tami Beck, a senior in architecture, said she was also concerned about what types of retail stores would be included in the project.

“I would prefer stores to be local, but if it is all local, I am not sure if people will want to go,” she said.

Sarah Frassa, also a senior in architecture, asked how the Universe Project would affect the price of her own housing unit. She also wondered what the price for apartments would be in the development.

“If students can’t afford to live there, then I don’t think it will be successful,” Frassa said. “The complex needs to be welcoming to students.”

Smith said the planners and developers want the Universe Project to be a place where students and U neighbors can be comfortable.

“We want this space to be a place that is exciting for people that live there and people that go there,” he said. “We are not into ugly.”

Perez urged students and community members to come to the next meeting which was held Feb. 26 or to go to a Web site that gives information on the project, www.universeproject.com.

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University of Utah

Community members met with U administrates and Universe Project developers in January to voice their opposition to the building of the Universe Project in the Rice-Eccles Stadium parking lot.