Demolishing five downtown Salt Lake buildings and paving the vacant lots for parking, as two developers petitioning the Planning and Zoning Commission would do, would destroy Salt Lake's "urban fabric," R/UDAT officials said Thursday.
Questar Corp. and Zions First National Bank petitioned the commission to raze buildings on State and Main streets at a hearing before the commission, also attended by leaders of the Regional/Urban Design Assistance Team.Questar wants to demolish the old Utah-Idaho Building at 155-157 S. State. Zions Bank, with development company Gerald D. Hines Interests, wants to destroy four buildings at 20-31 W. First South and 116-118 S. Main.
But a proposed ordinance, brought to the commission by UTA director John Pingree, would make the parking lots the developers seek a conditional use dependent upon "desirable development patterns."
And if developers can't demonstrate a legitimate need for more asphalt downtown, 50 percent of which is dedicated to parking, demolition permits could be denied, under the proposed ordinance.
A Zions Bank developer renovating office space in the Kearns Building, 136 S. Main, told the commission he must have 40 parking stalls to lease office space and "kick off" redevelopment in ailing downtown Salt Lake City.
"It (the Kearns Building) is not going to be vital if we don't lease it, and we won't lease it until we get parking for it," said Hines developer Tom Bacon, saying the lot would mean $200,000 in leasing revenue.
The parking lot would be a short-range answer to providing parking space for the building until a parking complex could be built in the interior of the block, Bacon said.
But demolishing the building to accommodate 40 parked cars would ruin "downtown vitality," said R/UDAT Steering Committee Chairman John Pace, noting the abundance of 20,000 parking stalls in the downtown area.
R/UDAT, a group of urban planners that studied the downtown in June, recommended the city restrict building demolitions in the downtown area, a practice they said would break up flow and discourage pedestrian shoppers.
Pace said tearing buildings down for the Kearns project, especially those fronting on Main Street, would be a "strong disincentive to pedestrian flow" on one of the city's most important streets.
Questar wants to demolish the Utah-Idaho Building to remove a downtown "eyesore" and create a needed 65 parking stalls it says will be leased by the federal government and other private companies with nearby office space.
Ned Greenwood, of Questar, said their only alternative is to destroy the building because it is unsafe and is not economically viable. Economic infeasibility is a necessary condition for demolition under the proposed ordinance.
But R/UDAT officials and other business people attacked Questar's reasons for destroying the building.
"There's ample parking downtown," said Pingree, doubting Questar's perceived need for parking. "That's what is destroying the fabric of the downtown area," he said.
E. Lee Tower, who operates Paradise Parking complexes throughout downtown, noted that within two blocks of the Questar building there are 1,800 parking stalls, 690 of which stood vacant on Thursday.
And a nearby businesswoman said she offered to lease the building from Questar to start a bicycle shop. "Frankly, I think the plan is to get rid of us," said Marylynn Oakes, of the Camera Den, 145 S. State.
The City Council will consider the demolition ordinance, which makes surface parking lot a conditional use in some commercial zones, at a Nov. 8 session.