Salt Lake City Council hears public comment on downtown revitalization plan and mayor’s proposed salary increase | News | Salt Lake City Weekly

Salt Lake City Council hears public comment on downtown revitalization plan and mayor’s proposed salary increase 

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Salt Lake City Council Members listened to two and a half hours’ worth of comments on a proposed downtown Revitalization Zone during Tuesday’s City Council Meeting. Councilmembers also received comments on the 2024/2025 Fiscal Year Budget and voted to approve a zoning amendment for new development on State Street.

Revitalization Zone
Roughly 70 constituents spoke during a public hearing on the Salt Lake City revitalization plan. Speakers voiced concern over the plan’s rapid progress and the proposed sales tax increase to support its development. The future of Abravanel Hall, Japantown and the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art were also matters of public concern.

The Utah Legislature passed Bill SB272 earlier this year, establishing a process for creating this zone. According to this legislation, the revitalization zone cannot exceed 100 acres and will be centered around redevelopment of the Delta Center, which is set to host an NHL team after the Arizona Coyotes were acquired by the Smith Entertainment Group, or SEG. The city has until Sept. 1 to reach a development agreement with SEG, the project’s applicant, according to the legislation.

To fund the project, the City is considering a 0.5% sales tax increase, allowed by SB272. According to the City’s website on the project, the increase could generate approximately $54 million yearly. The higher tax could last for up to 30 years, but would not apply to groceries, motorhomes or cars.

For the protection of taxpayers, access to the funds can be cut off and repaid if the developer agreement is broken, according to state code.

Many of the hearing’s speakers spoke in support of preserving Abravanel Hall. The performance hall, located at 123 West South Temple, was built in 1979 and is recognized for its excellent acoustics and distinctive architecture. But its placement, particularly in relation to the adjacent Salt Palace Convention Center, creates a barrier through downtown that separates the city core on Main Street from the areas around the Delta Center and Gateway.

“Abravanel Hall is one of the greatest acoustic halls in America,” Sabrina Neilson said to the Council. “It is a gem that cannot be replaced.”

Mike Maughan, an executive with Smith Entertainment Group, presented a short introduction to the project before the public hearing. In it, he referenced Abravanel Hall but reminded the audience that the venue is owned by Salt Lake County, not the City.

“At Smith Entertainment Group, we feel strongly that a symphony hall, that the arts, stay on site,” Maughan said, “and that we continue to have that as a deep and important piece of what we're doing with this sports, entertainment, culture and community district."

Over the last year, Salt Lake County has been developing a new master plan for Abravanel Hall. The new plan aims to address the lack of accessibility and ADA compliance in the Hall, problems with its facilities and necessary updates in the Hall’s design and production systems and patron spaces.

On Tuesday afternoon, County Council staff presented the master plan’s findings and put forward two options for renovating the Hall, both costing roughly $200 million. The new master plan was completed before discussions of the Salt Lake Revitalization Zone gained momentum.

County Mayor Jenny Wilson emphasized her desire to preserve and renovate the Hall during the County Council meeting over building a new venue. Though research on a new build is lacking, Wilson guessed the cost of a new building would be the same as, if not more than, renovating the hall.

Maughan emphasized Smith Entertainment Group’s willingness to work with the County’s plans for Abravanel Hall, whatever they may be.

Several speakers also spoke in support of revitalizing Japantown as part of the project. Lisa Imamura, Salt Lake Buddhist Temple board member, said she recognized that change was coming to the area, but asked that Japantown community members be included in future discussions.

“We acknowledge that the Capital City Revitalization Zone is going to happen, and we want to be a part of it,” Imamura said “We ask that Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County and SEG keep this in mind and make sure that there are a few seats at the table for all of us, especially because it seems to be moving very fast.”

The speed at which plans for the Revitalization Zone have been created was a concern for several other speakers. Maughan took a moment to acknowledge that in his introduction. He said the project will be intentional in its design and implementation.

“I know that this process is fast, but a fast process does not mean that it is not a deliberate one," Maughan said.

Other commenters like Rich Walje, president of the board of trustees for the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, expressed excitement for the project and its potential benefits.

“We’re supportive of the whole process of seeing how we might fit with Abravanel Hall and maintain a strong arts culture within the revitalization zone,” Walje said.

Still, the Revitalization Zone received its fair share of criticism. Several speakers emphasized the need to ensure affordable housing is prioritized in the zone’s developments. Several Salt Lake residents emphasized the importance of ensuring that residents see clear benefits from this project that they will be funding with their tax dollars.

“Public dollars should be spent to achieve direct public benefit,” said Tom Merrill, chair of the Downtown Community Council. Merrill’s requests for the Revitalization Zone included the incorporation of residential housing and enhanced public transit.

“I believe we need to have a bigger conversation about justice and access in the Revitalization Zone,” Sam Adams said to the Council. “I see the opportunity before us like this: will the Salt Lake City we are building be a case study for inclusive growth or one in gentrification?”

The Council voted to continue the public hearing in the Council’s June 4 meeting. More information on the project can be found at tinyurl.com/SLCRevitalizationZone.

Budget Hearings
The Council also received several comments on Mayor Erin Mendenhall’s recommended budget proposal. This public hearing was one of two the Council will hold for the 2024/2025 Fiscal Year Budget. The second will take place on June 4.

Riley Hewitt criticized Mendenhall’s proposal to adjust compensation rates for City officials. The proposal increases Mendenhall’s salary by nearly $44,000 and City Councilmembers’ salaries by $11,000. Hewitt argued Mendenhall does “absolutely nothing” to warrant such a salary.

“Unacceptable, diabolical, despicable, disgusting,” Hewitt ended her comment by saying.

Two other commenters criticized the proposed budget increase for the Salt Lake City Police Department. Mendenhall’s proposal allocates an additional $9 million to the Police Department and accounts for 25% of the General Fund’s expenditures.

“I really think that the police budget is bloated and is not leading to a safer Salt Lake,” said Em Canada. “I think that we should definitely not be increasing the police budget and have them be more efficient with their resources.”

Approved Ordinances
The Council voted unanimously to approve a tax increase requested by the Metropolitan Water District of Salt Lake City and Sandy. The money generated from the higher tax rate will be used to maintain water infrastructure that treats and delivers water to Salt Lake and Sandy residents.

The District’s property tax will increase from 0.0002 to 0.00035 following the Council’s approval. According to the City’s webpage on the increase, “property taxes on a home valued at $596,000, the average in Salt Lake City, could increase by about $49 per year” with the new rates.

The Council also approved a rezone for two properties on South State Street and two properties on East Coatsville Avenue. The rezone will accommodate a redevelopment plan called Maven State. Plans for the redevelopment have not yet been submitted but are expected to include 150 apartments and ground-floor commercial space.

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