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Developer submits scaled-down 'Sugar Hole' plan

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 1 2010 9:45 p.m. MST

Empty lot at 2100 South Highland in Sugar House.

Michael Brandy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — A mix of street-level shops and restaurants lines the corner of 2100 South and Highland Drive, topped by five levels of apartments — all accessed by two levels of underground parking.

This is developer Craig Mecham's new vision for the corner of 2100 South and Highland Drive.

No more office building. No more condominiums. And, Mecham hopes, no more delays.

"We have a project here that we think will be a real asset to the community," he said.

Mecham met Tuesday night with the Sugar House Community Council to present preliminary designs for his scaled-back project on the northeast corner of the Granite Block.

The revised plans, though still in the preliminary stages, call for 45,000 to 50,000 square feet of retail space, with between 190 and 210 one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments.

"This is not the final product," Mecham said, "but this is definitely the direction we want to go."

It's a much different project than the office/condominium development Mecham first proposed in 2007. And judging from the public and Community Council response to the early peek Tuesday, the change is for the better.

"Overall, this is much better than the last presentation, and I'm really excited about this being here," said Amy Barry, the council's first vice chairwoman.

Mecham said he has yet to secure financing for the project, though he expects to do so in the next few months as plans for the project solidify.

Entrance to the underground garage is planned from Highland Drive, with an exit to the south of the project, easing some concerns about how it would affect traffic on 2100 South. Mecham also calmed some fears by promising that the project isn't being designed to accommodate a big-box tenant.

It's hard to blame Sugar House residents for being nervous about the project.

Just across the street from the Sprague Library, where Mecham made his presentation Tuesday night, the corner lot remains vacant. Young trees and shrubs line the outside edges of the property, surrounded by a clearly temporary chain-link fence that in some places is starting to sag.

Nearly three years ago, crews began demolishing the eclectic row of shops that faced 2100 South to make way for a seven-story office structure and an abutting eight-story residential building as part of a proposed 41/2 acre mixed-use development.

It was a project that Mecham in March 2007 boasted would "enhance property values, strengthen retail and generally help the business climate of Sugar House."

Those who have followed the saga of what became known as the "Sugar Hole" know that things haven't played out the way Mecham had planned.

To be fair, some of that was beyond the developer's control.

The credit crunch created by the Great Recession has made securing financing for the project difficult. And delays created by Salt Lake City's then-maligned planning division forced constant revisions to what at first was an 18-month construction timeline.

Then, there was the demolition debacle that left a shell of the former Blue Boutique building standing for more than two months. Wrecking crews discovered mid-demolition that the Blue Boutique shared a wall with its neighbor to the west — a building Mecham didn't own.

As soon as that issue was resolved, Mecham had another mess to clean up — literally.

Sugar House residents quickly got tired of looking at a large crater on an active street corner where they once shopped. And in May 2008, Salt Lake City building officials ordered Mecham to do something about it.

As a condition of the demolition permit Mecham obtained in December 2007, the developer agreed to install temporary landscaping at the site within four months if construction of the project had not commenced.

In March 2009, after several months of back-and-forth negotiations, missed and extended deadlines and legal haggling between lawyers for the city and the developer, Mecham had crews fill the hole and landscape the site.

It's a saga Mecham is ready to put behind him.

"We're anxious to move forward with this new project," he said.

e-mail: jpage@desnews.com

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