The City of Logan has been working for years to make something of the Emporium and other downtown property it owns, but a parking lot agreement is still a point of contention with downtown business owners.
Now, business owners are raising the alarm that the city may use eminent domain to disregard their voices and go ahead with a plan to demolish buildings it owns and build a community plaza, retail space, apartment buildings and a parking structure. City officials, meanwhile, say they consider eminent domain a last resort and would much rather come to a new agreement that benefits everyone.
Concerned readers sent The Herald Journal a copy of a memo exploring the city's legal options regarding the parking agreement. According to the memo from Salt Lake City law firm Snow, Christensen and Martineau, the City of Logan and the Downtown Business Association Inc. entered into the “Proposed Parking Agreement” in October 1989 creating an obligatory “parking servitude” where the city would provide and maintain parking. However, the association dissolved in August 2002. The memo states no information suggests affairs or transferred assets — including parking rights — were “formally wound up” by the now expired association.
The law firm suggests two options appear feasible for the city: a declaratory action to modify the servitude and/or using eminent domain to “condemn and acquire” whatever rights the association, shareholders and beneficiaries have in the parking agreement.
City officials, for their part, state that nothing has been set in stone yet and despite the memo, eminent domain would be the last resort.
“Our goal is to get to a new Parking Agreement with the specific Center Block owners which reflects the former agreement, just in a different configuration," wrote Logan City Mayor Holly Daines in a letter to Center Block business owners sent earlier this week. “As a reminder, this does not mean the proposed project is approved. The City Council has not approved funding, and to do so will require a public hearing process.”
Last December, the Historic Preservation Committee denied the city's plan to demolish the Emporium and nearby buildings it owns and build a community plaza, retail space, a 136-unit apartment building and a parking structure. The Preservation Committee stated it does not consider the Emporium itself a historic building in its current form, but the decision came before the committee because it's in the Downtown Historic Preservation District.
According to Logan City Attorney Kymber Housley, the use of eminent domain cannot happen unless approved by the Municipal Council, and no vote has been taken on the issue. For the past two weeks, Housley said, an appraiser has been contacting business owners to obtain input and determine how the project will impact them.
“No decisions have been made to use eminent domain,” Housley said. “At this point, we’re just taking that step toward seeing what is the impact of the project going to be on the block from a value standpoint.”
Housley said powers of eminent domain would not resolve the denial of a demolition permit by Logan’s Historic Preservation Committee. However, Housley said, the city may reapply for a permit if the proposed plan proves viable and has the majority support of business owners. The committee's decision may also be appealed to the Logan Municipal Council.
“The hope is we can get most of the property owners on board because they will see the value of this project and how it enhances their property; and if they don’t, what’s the mechanism to resolve it?” Housley said. “The extreme option is to use powers of eminent domain; government always has that ability to condemn property if it’s for a public purpose.”
Logan bought the Emporium shopping center and neighboring buildings in 2016, originally planning to use the properties for a new library. Public reaction was mixed, however, and plans for the property have since gone through multiple incarnations. In September 2019, the city unveiled a concept for its latest Center Block renovation, which sparked debate from some downtown business owners over who controls or even owns the block’s public parking area. Housley said, however, there should be no dispute regarding the parking lot's ownership.
“Anybody can go look at the county records and see that the city owns that internal parking area,” Housley said. “We acquired that for the purposes of providing parking — our intent is to provide parking.”
Vint Larsen, owner of Al’s Trophies and Frames, said the proposed plan allows his business only 10 parking stalls, and patrons of other businesses will have to compete with apartment renters for parking. For Larsen, the city is violating the aforementioned agreement — supposed to last in perpetuity — by using the property for anything other than parking and using taxpayer dollars to do so.
“It kind of comes down to a matter of integrity,” Larsen said.
Larsen said he supports an “absolutely beautiful” alternative plan proposed by George Daines to buy The Emporium from the city and remodel it for retail that will “bring downtown back.”
“Why are we giving money to a Salt Lake City developer to take our parking lot?” Larsen said, opining that the loss of parking in addition to the plan’s logistics will be harmful. “To me, it’s a business killer.”
Housley said when the project is completed, there will be over 100 more parking spots available at Center Block than there are currently. Larsen disagreed, stating the added users living in and visiting apartments would make for less available parking.
“If we take away the parking lot that we have here, there’s no chance we’re going to be able to re-energize downtown,” Larsen said. “The city is continually threatening to take this parking lot rather than honoring their agreement. Nobody is going to put money into downtown Logan if they will lose their parking.”