The nearly three-hour public hearing about proposed plans for the Emporium block in downtown Logan brought a crowd to City Hall on Tuesday evening following the Logan Municipal Council meeting.
Last month, the council members, who are also members of the Logan Redevelopment Agency, were presented with three plans for revitalizing downtown Logan and specifically the Emporium block. Tuesday evening’s public discussion revolved around parking, possible litigation and housing options in relation to those proposals.
“As I have talked to community members, business owners and staff, I have been reminded how much all we want to do is what is best,” said Council Member Amy Anderson at the beginning of the public hearing. “We have differing opinions, ideas, suggestions. We have differing views of what the problems are.”
Anderson said the purpose of the public hearing was to inform the RDA about their recommendation on where and how the RDA funds should be used downtown.
The Historic Preservation Committee voted to deny the demolition of the Emporium and neighboring buildings in December. The demolition would have been the first step toward the city’s plan to build an ice skating rink/community plaza with retail space and apartments, with 20% affordable housing units, in the Emporium lot. This plan includes a parking garage behind the plaza.
George Daines, along with several other downtown business owners, proposed that the existing buildings on the Emporium lot be refitted to allow for businesses and restaurants to revive the building and surrounding area and start thinking about an outdoor community plaza on Center Street, instead.
Gene Needham III, a downtown business owner, put forth 10 different plans for possible downtown revitalization projects. One of the plans, similar to George Daines’ idea, aims to restore retail functionality of the Emporium building but with the addition of housing options.
“It is exciting to see that we care about downtown,” said local musical arts mainstay Michael Ballam during the public hearing. “I hope this does not become an all-or-nothing proposition. I hope the good points come together in a win-win situation for everyone.”
Ballam said there is a possibility of 4,000 people per day being downtown and in need of parking during the many theater events through the summer and suggested a public/private venture to raise money for more parking downtown.
Mayor Holly Daines said that with the addition of a parking garage as part of the project, there would be a net increase of 10 public parking stalls.
Whether or not that is going to be enough is still being considered. According to city officials, their studies suggest on a regular weekday and an average weekend, parking will be fine. However, many residents and business owners shared their concerns about how far people will have to walk to get to different store fronts.
Ben Ash, a USU college student, said that he and his wife decided to try walking around downtown as part of a date night a couple weekends ago. Ash said while the distance wasn’t unpleasant, the aesthetic wasn’t ideal and hoped the new plaza concept would help make walking around downtown more inviting.
“If a place is enjoyable to walk, people will walk,” Ash said.
The other problem has to do with the possible litigation caused by a parking agreement made between the city and block business owners decades ago.
The agreement stated that the property was “principally purchased by block owners and transferred to Logan City with the assurance of Logan City’s reaffirmed commitment to provide public parking in perpetuity for the benefit of the city block owners and general public.”
Abraham Verdoes, who ran for Municipal Council last year, said it would be really unfortunate to start off this process with litigation and questioned whether the plans have considered the impact on Main Street traffic.
“This will have a lot of impacts on the City Council to move forward with other projects so I hope this provides a foundation to enable those, rather than hampering them,” Verdoes said.
Steve Bower, a longtime resident of Logan, opposed the city’s plan due to the lack of downtown business owners’ support.
“With George’s project you are involving local individuals, local people, local business owners who for years, decades, have given their sweat and tears and their efforts into building Logan city into what it is,” Bower said. “The mayor’s plan is to bring in an out-of-town carpetbagger to do the concept and take the profits out of town.”
In the RDA meeting last month, the mayor said the project is economically and logistically viable.
“Yes, (Salt Lake area-based developer) Cowboy Partners will make money on this project, but Logan city will benefit as well,” said Logan Mayor Holly Daines. “It is something we could not do on our own and no one would take the Emporium on without an incentive from the city.”
Other ideas for what should go in the Emporium lot were tossed around, such as a Children’s Museum or having the spot be reconsidered for a long-discussed new library location.
People supporting the city’s plan said demolishing the Emporium and building from the ground up was the only way to be cost-effective and safe, while others fought to preserve the history of the building and exterior facade, which was renovated in the ‘70s.
“I’ve tried to come up with alternative plans so that everyone is happy, but I can’t do that,” said Council Member Tom Jensen.
Council Members Mark Anderson and Jess Bradfield echoed that sentiment and concluded that throughout their research, the public comment received prior to this meeting and throughout this meeting, consensus is looking like 60/40 in favor of the city’s plan, although it is not a concrete estimate.
“What I want to do is make a decision that in 20 years when I come back, I say, ‘We did pretty well at that, we did a pretty good job,’” said Council Member Jeannie Simmonds. “Because we are not going to be perfect and I know we all care deeply about Logan today and Logan tomorrow.”
The RDA is planning to meet again on March 17 to decide whether to continue the conversation or make a recommendation about which plan should be supported through RDA funds.
More information about the proposed plans, as well as a video of the public hearing, can be found at loganutah.org or on the City of Logan Facebook page.