March 1, 2012

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Back from the Dead

A Vibrant Main Street Can Bring New Life to a City

John Coon

March 1, 2012

It resembled a scene straight from a Christmas movie.

This past November, a crowd of Holladay residents thronged the city’s small Village Plaza to watch the lighting of the plaza’s Christmas tree. Nearly 300 people attended the event and enjoyed fresh hot chocolate and carols sung by students from nearby Olympus Junior High.

This holiday scene played out exactly as Holladay Mayor Dennis Webb envisioned when the city first committed to creating a walkable downtown area more than a decade ago. Webb wants Holladay residents to feel a special bond with the community where they live.

“It’s home,” Webb says. “It’s part of the fabric of my roots. So many people don’t have that. The sense of community is gone. And that has to do with place. For most people, community ends at the gutter.”

Many towns and cities across Utah have taken to redeveloping and revitalizing their downtown areas as a means of creating a stronger sense of community. This revitalization push is not based solely on idealistic principles: it also makes good business sense to create a vibrant downtown or “main street” district.

Infusing New Life
Holladay put a considerable amount of work into creating a walkable main street village that featured the plaza as its centerpiece. The first phase meant installing new infrastructure—roads were rebuilt and power lines buried. A new plaza adjacent to Holladay Boulevard and Murray-Holladay Road was constructed. Those three projects alone came with hefty price tags. It cost $6 million to do road work, $2 million to build the plaza and $1 million to bury the power lines.

A second phase will begin this year when Holladay builds a mixed-use central block to anchor its main street village. It will consist of 21,000 square feet of retail space and 20,000 square feet of office space. Construction on the central block is slated to begin in late spring or early summer.

Several businesses are already interested in becoming tenants in the central block and Webb estimates that 50 to 75 jobs will be created through this mixed-use development. “It’s an investment,” he says. “You have to look at it that way.”

Looking at it as a long-term investment is the approach other Utah towns and cities have taken to infuse new life into stagnant downtown areas. Redevelopments have occurred up and down the Wasatch Front from Brigham City to Provo.

In 2005, Magna began restoring 2700 South from 8800 West to 9200 West by installing new curbs, sidewalks and streetlights and redesigning the road. Over the next few years, the project expanded to include restoring facades on historic buildings, opening a new mining museum highlighting the town’s history and opening a new library.

Overcoming Urban Decay
One of the most intensive and successful downtown revitalization projects in the past decade has taken place in Ogden. In a few short years, Ogden has brought new life into a formerly decaying downtown area with a series of redevelopment projects in designated blighted areas.

Most notable among these redevelopment projects is The Junction, a 20-acre mixed-use development built on the site of the former Ogden City Mall. It features retail shops, restaurants, office space, a movie theater and the Children’s Treehouse Museum. The Junction is anchored by the Salomon Center, a 125,000-square-foot recreational center that draws 7,000 to 8,000 visitors per week and features activities ranging from indoor surfing to indoor skydiving.

The Junction alone averages around 150,000 visitors per month and has helped save several businesses, allowing them to flourish. Along the way, mixed-use developments such as The Junction have given Ogden a new identity as a city that stands in stark contrast to what its reputation was only a couple of decades ago.

“Our identity in the mid-90s was a decayed city that was crime-ridden and nobody would move their businesses here,” says Tom Christopulos, the director of community and economic development for Ogden. “Businesses were moving out. We had lost Thiokol. We had lost nearly every downtown business. It was a mess.”

Ogden created a redevelopment agency and put plans in place back in 1999 to identify blighted areas of the city and revitalize them with redevelopment projects. Total investment since that time has exceeded $1 billion. The bulk of the money has come from private investors.

Christopulos says redeveloping sections of the city has had a direct impact on Ogden emerging as an outdoor destination. Drawing major sports events like the Xterra Championships, the Winter Dew Tour and the Tour of Utah to the city has become much easier.

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