It's been a long, arduous and pothole-filled journey, but Triad Center, the star-crossed commercial development on west South Temple, has come full circle from its controversial beginnings to fulfill a portion of the destiny its developers originally envisioned a decade ago.
Ten years after its completion, the 10-acre complex of five buildings totaling 560,000 square feet of space is now 95 percent leased - a figure that for practical purposes means it is full."There are a few pocket spaces left that we can do business with, but it's pretty hard to get much over 95 percent, especially in a project this size with more than 50 different tenants," said Chris Matthews, principal of Chris Matthews & Associates, the leasing and management company that took on the center in 1991 when it was only half full.
The development known today as Triad Center was originally conceived as only the first phase of a much more ambitious project that its principal backer, Saudi Arabian Adnan Khashoggi, and his Utah manager, Emanuel A. Floor, envisioned as "Rockefeller Center West."
Triad Center - Triad meaning Khashoggi and his two brothers - was to be a vast complex of office towers, high-rise residential condominiums, restaurants, theaters and an "International Bazaar" retail shopping center of elite, upscale stores spread throughout the surrounding blocks.
The centerpiece was to be and remains today the restored Devereaux Mansion - home for the Chart House national restaurant franchise.
But most of those big plans never happened. None of the original retail shops, restaurants and private clubs made it much past the first chaotic years of 1984-85 when it became clear that Khashoggi had given the project the blessing of his name and reputation - his Salt Lake International Center business park had been a success - but not his personal funding.
Triad Center went into bankruptcy in the mid-1980s with only a handful of tenants who owned their facilities outright in a condominium arrangement surviving unscathed.
One of the larger losers from the original bankruptcy was The Traveler's Insurance Co., the main lender then and the primary owner of the complex today. Total ownership is spread among five condominium associations with four owners among them, including The Travelers, Bonneville International Corp. (owner of KSL Radio and Television), state of Utah and a New York-based bank.
In January 1991, when Matthews was hired, Triad Center was only 54 percent leased. In the previous 18 months, only 3,000 square feet of space had been leased - not exactly a recipe for recouping Traveler's investment.
Matthews, a Utahn who was then working in Colorado, came in and began the hunt for tenants to fill the unleased space owned by Traveler's. He would also manage the entire property for all of the four owners.
He said it was immediately clear to him that the original concept of Triad Center as the "Gathering Place" for Salt Lakers looking for entertainment, food and shopping wouldn't work.
"Triad Center is a great fundamental office park," he said. "It will never be the grandiose scheme originally conceived by Khashoggi and Floor, but it is a good solid office environment with some restaurants and athletic facilities that support everything that needs to happen here."
Construction of the Delta Center as Triad's next-door neighbor has also been a boon for the complex, converting what was a parking lot and old warehouse buildings into a gleaming arena that regularly attracts thousands of people to the area.
Under a plan supported by former Utah Sen. Jake Garn, the old Union Pacific Depot west of Triad would be converted to an air and space museum. If that happens, said Matthews, the transition of west South Temple would be complete and could perhaps pave the way for expansion of Triad Center.
What kind of expansion? Well, not the 30-story office tower envisioned by the original developers on an acre of land bewteen Devereaux House and the U.P. Depot. Ground was broken for that building in 1984 and for years its structural steel lay rusting in a field east of the complex, but it was never constructed. The space intended for that building is currently a Triad parking lot.
"We have done some preliminary studies at that site for both a hotel and an office building with some retail at the base," said Matthews. "The air and space museum would include Hansen Planetarium and an Imax theater - things that would attract a lot of tourists - so it might be possible."
If a new office building were built, Matthews believes the site would support a facility of about 250,000 square feet, closer to the size of the current Triad 5, the KSL building.
Matthews describes such a development as "possible but not on the front burner." Financing would be hard to get without a large, anchor tenant committed to the building. "It's viable, and sometime in the next two to 10 years something will happen there," he assured.
Providing adequate lunch facilities for Triad Center's 2,000 employees has always been a bit of a problem (the Chart House is open only for dinner) as a number of eating places have tried but failed over the years. But Matthews believes the announcement last month of three new eateries should make things right.
Cafe Apparent has opened in the space formerly occupied by Aunt Kate's and The Islander will open in the Carriage House facility formerly housing Anthony's, a private club that went into bankrupcty. Cravings, a small facility specializing in snacks and pastries, will also open soon in the plaza side of the Carriage House.
Not all of the public entertainment facilities originally planned for the center have been eliminated. The ice skating rink will reopen once again in November and this past summer the amphitheater in the rink space was the site for more than 25 different activities - everything from concerts and dances to fund raising and group banquets. Also, Matthews said, Triad will continue to host the annual Utah Arts Festival.
Did Khashoggi and company have the right idea after all? Well, not exactly, but it has worked out better than many thought only a couple of years ago.
"Obviously, if we were starting over, we wouldn't do it the same way, but it still lays out very nicely," Matthews said. Rockefeller Center? "Well, they were far ahead of their time with that one, but if they could have gone ahead with their major, high-rise office building it would have created the critical mass to support some of the retail and restaurants.
"But that didn't happen and the retail failed and the restaurants failed and the office park went through bankruptcy and was never properly marketed. We came in with an aggressive marketing plan and then a lot of things worked in our favor, such as the Delta Center and Salt Lake's strong economy."
Current lease rates at Triad Center are $13.50 per square foot gross (including operating expenses) and Matthews is budgeting to raise that to $14 in January. Lease rates for other newer office buildings in the downtown area range from $14 to $18.
Matthews has a staff of seven administrative people and a total of 30 security and maintenance personnel. While his headquarters will remain at Triad Center, he has also taken on other clients, including most recently, the Pocatello Mall in Idaho.
Some of the larger tenants at Triad Center include KSL Broadcast House, AT&T, Cellular One, Equitable Life and Casualty, Dallin Smith White Advertising, several Utah state agencies and Williams and Rockwood Advertising.
New tenants recently signed include BMI, Electric Light Wave and Prompt Associates.