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Will Sugar House become Another Gateway?


Back in March 2007, Utahstoires.com set out to find answers to the questions on the minds of all Sugar House area residents:

Will Sugar House's unique ecletic charm go by the wayside to corporate enticing homogenous development? Also, who could begin to think that the best option for the only place in Salt Lake City that still retains its local unique flair on one entire city block should be demolished and rebuilt into what appears to be a Gatewayesque development?



In April 2007, many of the area merchants seemed complacent in the realization that the fight was now a lost cause. Pib's owner, Phil Snow didn't think he would move back to the block after the construction project, however he seemed optimistic about the future of his business and his move across the street from the liquor store, East of 24 Hour fitness. Sugar House Coffee shop owner Bob Evans feels betrayed not by his landlord, Craig Mecham, but more by the American shopper. He believes that the local shops like his are such a rarity, not because of "evil corporate America or profiteering landlords" but more because American shoppers prefer the Gaps, Old Navy and Starbucks to the local shops. "You can't blame a landowner for simply providing what the marketplace demands." However, its a much different story when talking to the patrons of the shops.

Opinions From The Sugar House Community

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Sugar House in its former glory (footage from May 2007)

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Interview with Sugar House Coffee owner Bob evans

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Opinions from clothing merchants Pib's owner Phil Snow

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Hear from Orion's Music Patrons

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Sugar House coffee patron Vincent

Area teens all feel betrayed that the one place they can go and "be themselves" is being sold out from under them. They attribute the success to the block to themselves. They would never shop at Gateway, they are unique individuals and they want to shop at unique places. Teens say the ambience of Sugar House and its charm represents part of what they believe is by-in-large lost in America, a sense of place.

In my interview with newly elected city planner Soren Simonson, (City Council representative for Sugar House) I found a man who is in the minority opinion. He believes that in the City Council's decision to rezone the block had been wrong. Working as an City Planner and smart growth consultant for the past 20 years, Simonsen said that Sugar House in its current form has many attributes that other cities and neighborhoods try to acquire and emulate. Mainly the pedestrian traffic, walkability of the neighborhood and shops that residents choose to walk rather than drive to.

Pedestrian traffic is now a rarity in America, local shops are a rarity and an entire city block full of pedestrian traffic and local shops: killing Sugar House is like killing the last wooly mammoth in North America. Maybe that's a bit extreme, but why not try to preserve a good thing when you have it?

The City Council Members (sauf Simonson) are not in any way remorseful about their decision. Our final segment was at the City Council meeting where an overflow crowd waited for their turn to speak and show their displeasure with their "little Haight Ashberry block's" demise. Teens spoke out, children and one merchant who made it clear that they didn't want another Gateway in Sugar House. City Council members sat and listened to residents complaints for and entire 30 minutes. That was all the time they allowed the unhappy public. We spoke to mayoral candidate Jenny Wilson, who has some ideas about how she would work as mayor to alleviate the certain traffic congestion problems that will arise with at least 100 new condos on the block as well as large parking structures being planned.

Opinions From Area Teens and City Leaders

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highlights from the City Council meeting.

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Hear from area teenager Spencer Skippers

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Hear Doug White's account of the past 20 year history of Sugar House

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Interview with Sugar House City Council Rep. Soren Simonson

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Interview with Salt Lake County Rep. Jenny Wilson

Today all that is left of the Granite Block is a pile of rubble. Craig Mecham has granted Utah Stories access to his plans and an interview discussing the reasoning behind his inability to save any buildings on the block. Residents like Laurie Bray, who has a phtography studio in Sugar House ask, "Does Mr. Mecham understand that this actions trickle down and affect so many in the area?" In our last interview Mecham said that he understands the unhapiness of the community but he believes his compelted project and investment of nearly $200 million dollars will offer a "truly unique shopping experience".

-RM (updated June 3rd, 2008)

A Time When "Local First" Was Not A Problem

Below are historical phographs and illustrations from an era when downtown Salt Lake City was nearly entirely locally owned. These articles and photographs vividly demonstrate the effects of downtown planners working to revive downtown by catering to commercial building trends to attract chain-stores rather than working to help bolster local businesses. These photographs are from an earlier story we did on the demise of Main Street and the new City Creek Center.

courtesy of the Utah State Archives

Above is an advertisement that appeared in the Deseret News in 1939 when Auerbach's celebrated 75-years-of-business in downtown Salt Lake City. The corner shown in the illustration is the Broadway district on the South-end of Main Street. This area was the central shopping district for Salt Lake City. Auerbach's and the Paris Company were the two primary retailers in this area. On the North-end of Main Street was the Z.C.M.I department store (below).

courtesy of the Utah State Archives

photograph showing the North side of downtown Salt Lake City . The Z.C.M.I department store is on the left.

(around 1955) Shipler collection



A great photograph showing the vibrant downtown Salt Lake City (around 1955) Shipler collection

courtesy of the Utah State Archives

The above photograph shows the vibrant and successful business district surrounding Main Street prior to 1957. Full of happy shoppers on a Saturday afternoon stroll; we see a fit family of three holding hands as they head eastbound on Fourth South above Main Street.

These photos present an incredibly idealic Main Street shopping area. They almost look like they come from Disneyland's nostalgic Main Street U.S.A. theme park. So how is it that all of this has been lost? This is where the story becomes complicated. Everyone has a different answer. Compare City Planner Doug Dansy with Salt Lake City Historian Allan Barnett and you find these two men couldn't have more different opinions.

click here to see full story on the demise of Salt Lake City's Main Street.