Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News
Merchants affected by a proposed redevelopment packed Sugar House Coffee Thursday, eager to discuss the fate of their businesses and a beloved shopping district.
At a morning meeting moderated by Salt Lake City Councilman Soren Simonsen, merchants expressed frustration at a lack of information regarding plans for the area the block bordered by 2100 South, Highland Drive, Sugarmont Drive and McClelland Street and a desire to do what they can to save their businesses and preserve the area.
"We have an identity here," said Cynthia Osmun, owner of Luna's Italian Ice cafe. "If they tear it down, the remnants of this neighborhood, we might as well be another Fort Union."
But with little information available about the proposed developments there are multiple property owners on the block Osmun and other Sugar House tenants were frustrated. Little at this point has been submitted to the city in the way of plans or permit applications, Simonsen said. Few know precisely what's in store, when it will happen, or what can be done to help businesses relocate when it does.
On Thursday, Simonsen proposed the formation of a public/private task force to track what's happening, look into what might be done to help merchants such as redevelopment aid for relocation or assistance in finding new locations and seek ways to minimize the economic and construction-related impacts of development.
City staffers will be in touch with interested businesses in the next few weeks, Simonsen said, and the task force likely would meet for the next six to 12 months, depending on need.
Martie Bond, owner of iPaw, a pet boutique located at 2146 S. Highland, said she will sign on for the task force.
"I'm new to Utah, but I know that Sugar House has always been a draw," Bond said. "It's just a fun place to be. So when I found that space (on Highland Drive), I was thrilled. It was the perfect spot there's walk-by traffic, it's the center of the city, there's small businesses, and I wasn't going to be sandwiched in between two huge buildings with a Starbucks on the corner and an Urban Outfitters on the other side. It was perfect for what I wanted to do, and I put my whole life savings into it."
Bond says she doesn't want to move, but she's been forced to look for another location because the area will become more vacant in anticipation of demolition, then vacant again when the area becomes a construction zone, and then unavailable once the project is complete because rents will be too high.
"I have to look," Bond said. "I have employees, and I have created something that's unique to Salt Lake. And this breaks my heart. I don't want to leave Sugar House. I love what I've done. But what choice do I have? I have to look."
However, relocating poses its own challenges, said Andy Fletcher, owner of Orion's Music, 2106 S. 1100 East. Fletcher moved from the 9th and 9th area in Sugar House before it was redeveloped.
"We moved 12 blocks from a Sugar House community to a Sugar House community, and I'd say it cost us, a conservative estimate, $80,000 to $100,000," Fletcher said. "The businesses here, I don't care if you're moving right across the street and you put a big banner up, you will lose business."
To mitigate those expenses, Fletcher reiterated his desire to hold a monthly or bimonthly "buy-cot" starting later this month.
"Instead of boycotting the area, I think it's important that people know that we're going to incur an awful lot of expense when we move our businesses," Fletcher said. "We're going to lose a lot of business. But twice a month, let's get people down here to find out what's going on with the block."
Fletcher proposed regular meetings featuring community and city officials, candidates for political office and consumers, sharing information and proposing ideas for what might be done.And, he added, "let's get the news to the public that if they want to support small businesses, if they want to see us succeed, they need to come down here and spend money in the next three or four months, so that we have the money to move. Let's get the word out that this is where we're going, this is what we're doing and these are our intentions."
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