Murals may change Salt Lake City’s plans for this run-down block
This was a drab clump of old industrial buildings along Salt Lake City’s 300 West last spring. Now, gigantic faces painted on exterior walls stare out in testament to a social justice movement. Residents say they form a powerful symbol of community healing, born out of grief, anger and protest.
Twenty-foot murals depicting people killed by police have breathed new meanings into what City Hall calls the Fleet Block, leading dozens of residents to oppose an otherwise routine rezoning for what is mostly city-owned asphalt, dirt piles and utility sheds.
Slow-moving city plans to develop the disused site between 300 West and 400 West from 800 South to 900 South have run headlong into raw emotion linked to the murals and what they represent. That’s led officials to delay formal action while they reassess.
As Mary Castellanos addressed city leaders last week, she summoned the anguish of her brother Joey Tucker’s 2009 death and began to cry.
“Our loved ones are not forgotten,” Castellanos said of the murals. “We have a place, a peaceful place to visit them and share stories. We have formed new friendships through the darkest times in our life.
“So I’m asking you, to please help us save these and not take them away.”
The outpouring has gone beyond family members and supporters of the 26 men and women shown in hues of pink and red on the block’s outer walls. Artists, moderate-income residents and activists fearing for those getting squeezed out in the city’s recent higher-end residential boom see their cause in the public images as well.
“Our city is losing its heart and soul,” said Derek Dyer, executive director of the Utah Arts Alliance. “This is a wonderful opportunity for us to create something for the community.”
Area business owners also support the murals, according to a member of the Granary District Alliance, representing commercial property owners. They’ve even run an ongoing campaign that has spawned a dozen public murals across the district, hoping to foster a sense of community for the neighborhood dotted with warehouses and industrial lots.
Nothing in the city’s proposals calls for imminent demolition of the buildings that line the edges of the Fleet Block, but Council Chairman Chris Wharton said public concerns have nonetheless resonated loudly and the project is on hold pending more discussions with Mayor Erin Mendenhall and her staff.
“We have the time to do this right,” Wharton said, reassuring mural supporters and suggesting the site may be turned into a city park.
“We’ve heard that this area has become a community gathering place and that has helped many come together to help and to heal,” he said. “We’ve heard that the community wants this space to be saved and secured for the future.”
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