Last week I wrote some things about Earl Holding that caused some people to ask why I don’t like him. Truth is, I don’t know him, let alone like him. I only know of him through what I see and read. I’ve read that he’s a very wealthy man and the owner of Sun Valley, Snow Basin, Sinclair Oil and the Little America and Grand America Hotels in Salt Lake City. Stories about the “private” and “camera shy” Holding usually focus on his rags-to-riches personal saga. Thus, I have a decent respect for what he’s accomplished as a “self-made man” and what he’s added to that luster by always crediting his equally able wife.
However, what I see of Earl Holding is another matter. From the lofty aerie atop City Weekly Towers, I see Earl Holding’s work up-close-and-personal every day. I see his hotels two blocks away, each consuming full city blocks (minus the flower shop at 500 South State). I see the Matheson Courthouse, near which he owns additional property on the same city block. I can faintly make out the property to the south of his hotels along 600 South where it’s said he owns even more land. But mostly, I see the 10-acre mess between Main Street and West Temple, bordered by 400 South and 500 South.
For over two years we published a weekly picture of that block, calling it the Olympic Countdown to 2002, in honor of Holding’s supposed promise to do something nice there before the Games. As you know, that didn’t happen. It ended up being what it is—a parking lot—and not a full one at that, since the corner right across the street from Port O’ Call was never used during the Olympics. If the city had used Holding’s land for its party instead of Washington Square, it would have been the hit of the Games; after all, the lines were already there, waiting for TRAX.
Holding’s properties occupy about 14 blocks of potential storefront, much of it vacant. His hotels use eight. Along Main Street alone, he controls some four blocks of frontage. Yet when it comes to revamping and re-planning, Salt Lake City focuses only on the north end of Main Street, and pretty much on just one store—Nordstrom—and on two malls, Crossroads and ZCMI. You can put all the plasma you want into the north end of town, but, uh, doctor, your patient is hemorrhaging on the south end.
Holding has produced sparse information about plans for his property, much of which he acquired amid controversy through the taxpayer-assisted RDA. Recently, he said he’d die before his “plan” is fully completed. That’s sad. Larry Miller built his dream in record time, and the same goes for Rice-Eccles Stadium. Some, like Schubert, Beethoven and Einstein, are highly regarded for unfinished work. Holding will not be. He could be remembered fondly, but not until he sheds his gas-pumping past and gets things done according to the needs of our city and not his own.