Two lawsuits filed by Block 57 landowners are stalling Salt Lake City's development plans for the beleaguered downtown block.
But city officials say ownership problems shouldn't hamper the efforts of a Regional/Urban Design Assistance Team, scheduled to come to town June 2-7, to study the block of decaying and vacant buildings that has become symptomatic of downtown's problems.The study is a tool of the American Institute of Architects, and officials hope recommendations by the team of planners and design experts will bring consensus to downtown's various interests.
Salt Lake Mayor Palmer DePaulis said the study will focus on the opportunity provided by Block 57, an underutilized 10-acre block in mid downtown. "It's not a specific development thing. It looks at the whole downtown with a specific eye at the block. I have a feeling that our timing is just about right.
"We want it (development) to happen in a way that's appropriate for the whole downtown and the whole block. We'd like to see what kind of movement we can get, along with the property owners who are there."
Noted San Francisco Architect Charles Davis has been selected as chairman of the R/UDAT study committee. Ogden was the first Utah city host to a R/UDAT team.
Meanwhile, attorney Stephen Swindle said several parties are interested in purchasing the northwest corner of the block. Swindle represents Jeff Morris, whose company, Morris Pacific, owns buildings formerly occupied by the Woolworth and J.C. Penney stores, as well as the attached parking garage.
Morris has twice announced plans to build a major office complex on the property.
The city's Redevelopment Agency, which has acquired property on the northeast corner of the block, in February selected FFKR Architects/-Planners and Wallace Associates Consulting Group to develop a plan, focusing on RDA-owned parcels. But pending lawsuits have clouded the development-by-entire-block scenario.
After two developers folded on the opportunity to develop the 10-acre block, bordered by State and Main streets and Second and Third South, the agency worked to package the property it already owned to potential developers. Hiring FFKR and Wallace as design consultants to develop a plan was part of that effort. But the city asked for a 60-day hold on planning efforts, in hopes of settling at least one of the two lawsuits.
The city and RDA are separate, but entwined because the City Council is the RDA's board.
"It was decided we would postpone further negotiations with our proposed consultants until after we have moved further along on lawsuits affecting Block 57. If 60 days from now, if we're still where we are in the lawsuit, then we cannot negotiate. We can only address our property," said RDA Director Michael Chitwood.
"We're interested in the development in the political point of view, but we're not taking action, or doing anything that would be prejudicial to the property interests of the people on the block," said City Attorney Roger Cutler.
S.M. Horman & Sons filed a U.S. District lawsuit in January, asking that the city's Redevelopment Agency be forced to buy the property at fair market value. Failing that, the suit seeks a permanent injunction against the city's future acquisition of the property and requests the city pay Horman $4 million in damages for the illegal temporary taking of the property.
Horman's lawsuit joins another suit, filed by five other Block 57 property owners, who won a legal battle barring the RDA from using the power of eminent domain on the properties. The RDA has filed an appeal of that decision, now awaiting scheduling before the Utah Supreme Court.