Salt Lake City’s Depot District sees building boom after homeless shelter is
Salt Lake City’s bold plans five years ago to push its downtown westward into the Depot District all but fizzled. Now, those visions are gaining traction.
The run-down neighborhood is drawing new housing like never before, with several projects involving hundreds of town homes and apartments coming before City Hall for approval since January’s demolition of the massive homeless shelter run by The Road Home at 210 Rio Grande St.
And the city narrowly missed “a unicorn opportunity” in recent months from one company interested in building a skyscraper at 600 West and 100 South to anchor a sizable commercial and residential project near the Salt Lake Central FrontRunner station.
While that high-rise proposal in The Gateway “came and went” with the whims of commercial real estate markets, one developer said, City Hall needs to be ready with the right zoning when a similar opportunity surfaces.
“There is a tremendous amount of interest from developers” in that portion of Utah’s capital, Redevelopment Agency Chief Operating Officer Danny Walz said. “And the market is definitely there to build in that area of the city.”
The disused blocks of former warehouse, rail yards and industrial properties are also being seen as a policy testing ground, sparking new debates on how much parking is needed, how tall skyscrapers should be and how the city should treat historic buildings.
“The RDA has spent years laying the groundwork for a thriving, diverse, transit-rich neighborhood at Station Center,” said Mayor Erin Mendenhall, “and I am happy to see the project moving forward.”
Station Center was to bring a long-sought wave of apartments to the western edge of downtown along with retail and office buildings and a host of green spaces laced with pedestrian-friendly streets — all of it built to take advantage of easy access to mass transit.
But vagrancy and street crime around the overflowing homeless shelter reportedly dampened enthusiasm and raised safety concerns among potential developers. Over time, an open-air drug market flourished in the vicinity and policymakers launched Operation Rio Grande to clean it up, which mixed a massive police presence with treatment and job assistance.
In place of that one homeless shelter, three smaller resources centers have been built.
The Road Home’s razing has undoubtedly been a factor in drawing new interest from investors, Walz said, but he noted that millions in construction dollars were already committed for that part of the city long before the shelter was torn down.
“Those are developers who took a risk, came into the neighborhood with all that grittiness, and they’ve been extremely successful,” Walz said. “Now a lot of others are following, too.”
Station Center has been on the city’s urban renewal agenda for more than a decade. Now, in concert with Mendenhall, Walz said the RDA has hit refresh.
The city is exploring a new approach to how it recruits developers, opting to woo a master contractor who would then oversee individual projects instead of…