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Bench mark: Mogul of Daybreak aims to shape western Salt Lake Valley's future

Published: Sunday, Aug. 23 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

Oquirrh Lake in the center of Daybreak is a hot spot for families to bring children to play.

Brendan Sullivan, Deseret News

SOUTH JORDAN — When Don Whyte steps onto the front porch of his two-story Daybreak colonial, he's greeted by a pick-your-superlative panorama of the Salt Lake Valley and Wasatch Mountains' majesty.

But if Whyte's wow-inspiring vantage is to live for, it's been planned for, too, starting with Brigham Young going on the grid by intersecting 100 South with 200 East to become the patron Latter-day Saint of urban planning.

From high on the mountaintop of Traverse Ridge to the superstructure skeletons rising from the bowels of downtown Salt Lake City, Young's recognized genius and vision have lent a steadying hand for 162 years of orderly growth and progress.

Now it's Whyte's turn to secure the future.

The 55-year-old president of Kennecott Land, who recently logged his second year on the job, is trying to do the rough equivalent of juggling chain saws as he presses forward with west-bench development plans while navigating choppy economic seas. Whyte has one eye sharply peeled on the well-received Daybreak project, which recently celebrated its fifth birthday. Planned for 4,200 acres and 20,000 residences when completed in 2024, it's ambitious by any standard. But it's just the warm-up act.

Whyte's other eye is flirting with something more audacious — an additional 93,000 acres that his company holds along the west bench that will be developed into the next century as the landmark Bingham Canyon Copper Mine is gradually decommissioned.

Nothing since pioneer times compares in terms of size and scope to what Whyte intends to pull off.

Whyte fell under the west bench's spell when he was being courted to come to Utah following an already stellar career spanning parts of four decades developing large-scale master-planned communities in Canada, Colorado and Florida.

"Someone mentioned to me that there were 93,000 acres up the hill (behind Daybreak) that could still be developed," he said. "That was part of the fascination for me: to do something that hasn't been done before."

Changing on the fly

Whyte was handed the reins for Daybreak just as Utah real estate was hitting the skids. That forced him to look for other ways to ensure that Kennecott Land survived, even prospered, amid a diminishing market.

It's proven Whyte's forte. He's worked energetically with his 11 builders, who are both local and national in their scope, making sure that product offerings are appropriate and competitive for the current market.

"We can deal with a slower pace of sales. Our landholding is large enough here that we can retool and adjust to what buyers are purchasing," explains the Canadian-born developer, who became a U.S. citizen in 1995.

One way is piggybacking on mass transit by building multifamily homes close to Daybreak's future light-rail stations scheduled to open in late 2010 or early 2011. Another is fast-tracking apartment construction, "because apartment dwellers are future homeowners," Whyte says.

Consumer feedback has been positive so far. "(It costs) $140,000 to live in Daybreak now," he muses. "That wasn't the case when we started."

eBay on board

Although flying in the face of recession, Whyte expects Daybreak's commercial facet will start to sparkle during the next 12 months.

Daybreak Commerce Park's only major tenants to date have been incestuous — the new corporate offices of Kennecott Land and parent company Rio Tinto's 35-acre distribution center supporting the Bingham Canyon mine.

That'll change when eBay opens its "next generation" data center in 2010. Whyte says the online auctioneer's plans allow for expansion of the facility in the future into a campus-type setting.

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