Sugar House Granite Block Comes Down
January 21st, 2007
100-year-old historic Sugar House buildings razed make way for Craig Mecham's new development project.
|The ecletic buildings that make up the Granite block were between 40 and 100-years- old. Their structural integrity was in question and they were deemed "unfit" for retrograde improvements.|
It took Craig Mecham much longer than he anticipated to get final approval to demolish the buildings on the Sugar House Granite Block, but finally his dream of "revitalizing" the block is beginning to be realized. "Revitalization," however, is a subjective term, and many local residents who witnessed the amazing improvement of the block, believed the last thing the Granite Block was in need of was a make-over.
By the time most residents and merchants learned about the rezoning approval of the Granite Block, plans had already been set into motion. Once the word spread, first through City Weekly then finally to the larger Utah newspapers, residents and merchants wanted to attempt to save Sugar House. However, in the end The Salt Lake City Council denied petitions and resident efforts to save the block under historic protection status. Subsequently, all local merchants on the block vacated and have since moved elsewhere.
The Granite Block follows the classic story of urban gentrification. During the period when Mecham was aquiring the properties (1976-1988) many Sugar House merchants were struggling and going out of business, mainly due to the growing popularity of subruban malls. Sugar House had been Salt Lake City's local hub for fine furniture and appliances. Today only two furniture stores remain. According to area resident Doug White, during this time Sugar House was a neighborhood filled with "run-down old homes". Like many older urban suburbs, however, the Sugar House area has made a tremendous comeback in recent years. Old homes have seen new life with extreme makeovers commonly including second levels, master suites, granite counter tops and stainless steel appliances. Its now not uncommon to see homes around Sugar House sell for upwards of $400,000. Property investors have bought up "dogs" they can "flip" to make a quick profit. As a result streets that were once occupied by low-income bohemian hippies and artists have slowly been sold and bought up by more wealthy yuppie professionals. The Granite Block was considered the last hold out where the more counter-cultural hippies and punks in their words could still, "be themselves."
The fight over the proposed plans became somewhat of a culture war. Many more wealthy professionals view the protection efforts as being spear-headed by "punks and druggies". Wealthier professionals also often tended to view the Granite Block as "old and dilapidated." In the end, Mecham had the more convincing argument by obtaining confirmation from the County Examiner who declared the buildings "very unsafe, without any viable means for seismic upgrades to restore structural integrity." Comments from our previous video posted on YouTube demonstrate the differing attitudes towards the project. The same stark contrast was found on forums for the Salt Lake Tribune stories about Sugar House. (which unfortunatley were not preserved in their archives) However, it wasn't only "drugged out hippies" who were calling for preservation.
A pile of rubble where Pib's, Cockers and Luna's Italian Ice once resided
Sugar House City Council Representative Soren Simonson was the lone voice crying out in council meetings. Simonson, who is a smart growth advocate and a master planning cosultant by trade, wanted a reexamination of the "assessment and historical significance of the buildings." Simonson's attempt to place a moratorium on the demolition, however fell on deaf ears in the City Council, and wasn't even brought to a vote, as no other City Council Members would second his motion.
The final plans to Mecham's development are still in the works, the renderings posted on UtahStories.com are the best estimate for what will be built. These plans feature all brick facades, unique art deco elements and recessed windows. If these plans maintain their architectural integrity residents by-in-large approve. A critical key component, however is traffic and parking. The redevelopment is described as a "walkable community." However, the block and surrounding area still lack any timely proposal for light rail or a transit station. "UTA needs to get on the ball," says one City Planning Commissioner.
In the meantime, Sugar House Coffee has moved just two blocks to the West. Pib's Exchange seems to be flourishing in their new bigger space three blocks to the South. Cockers, took a gamble by relocating to a much bigger space in an area that has only recently seen some signs of improvement, State Street and 600 South.
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I keep reading about, talking with people who say we shouldn't be mad at Craig Meacham. Why the hell not? His rush to demonlish the granite block and evict the tennants, fearing the concil would change it's ruling on his develpment (something that was under discussion after Simonson joined the council), was rash, short sighted and more than just unfortunate. The council erred in allowing the project to go through but he set the bulldozers in motion the first second he could. "It was a mistake," he says. "who could tell what was going to happen in the economy" he says. Poor Craig Meacham. But in the interview above he appears to have a crystal ball about the future when he says even if he had the money he wouldn't build because things are too uncertain. Which is it Mr. Meacham, do you want to be blamed for not being able to see into the future then or applauded now for your apparent revalations about the future? Stop bending over to make excuses for the landlord who destroyed a city treasure. If sugar house was a person, he'd be guilty of murder and in jail.
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