More than 15 years ago merchants on Bountiful's Main Street were saying they wanted to turn their stagnant shopping district into a "New England-style village" abuzz with people.
Now, after years of proposals, more vacant buildings, deals gone bad and a $1.6 million project to spruce up Main Street, people are still talking.Meanwhile, the latest chapter in the redevelopment story is now being written by the Bountiful Redevelopment Agency board and two potential developers - one a downtown merchant and the other a real estate developer.
Since October, the agency has been negotiating with Town Center Associates - a partnership of John Hepworth and Bill Hunt. Hepworth operates two Johnstown Ltd. clothing stores, one in Salt Lake City and one in Bountiful. Hunt is an officer with Salt Lake-based real estate development firm, Hunt and Company.
If the partnership agrees to participate in the redevelopment deal, Hepworth said, giving rebirth to Boun-tiful's downtown would be no easy task.
"There is no question we feel it will be uphill," said Hepworth, who is a son-in-law of Keith Stahle, a principal landowner in the Main Street area. Both of the parcels Stahle owns on the block have been excluded from the current proposal. Keith Stahle is a distant relative of Mayor Dean S. Stahle.
According to Tom Hardy, city manager, the city is considering leveling most of a downtown block and constructing a new retail, office and entertainment complex. Past proposals have borrowed New England architectural themes from the pioneer Bountiful Tabernacle and integrated them into shops and offices.
The agency board is also considering giving a developer land. Whether the city should offer the property in exchange for the development is one of the issues yet unresolved, said Tom Hardy.
"We haven't formally extended it (an offer)," Tom Hardy said noting that negotiations with Town Center still remain in the discussion stage.
The city signed an exclusive 90-day negotiating agreement with the partnership and officials wouldn't release the names of those involved in development firm to the Deseret News until recently. The 90 days has expired, but the agency continues to work with the developers.
The proposal involves the block across from the Bountiful Tabernacle. The block is bordered by Center and Main streets and First South and First West. The RDA development would involve almost all of the block except for the Davis County Clipper building and an adjacent home, Mayor Stahle said.
The redevelopment agency during recent weeks has been making contact with property owners in the block about selling their land. The owners are Haven R. Burningham, Lee Bernard, Diumenti Investment Co. and Davis County Co-op property owned by World Enterprises and John A. Gustafson, said Lana Hardy, RDA administrative assistant.
Inclusion of the Clipper property, owned by the Stahle family, would make the project too expensive, Lana Hardy said.
"We can't afford to put it in the project," Mayor Stahle said noting that the redevelopment agency would be required to pay large relocation costs of the presses housed at the newspaper.
Town Center Associates was selected during a public bidding process from among several developers by the RDA board.
Barbara Holt, a board member, thinks now is the time for public discussions about parts of the deal.
"I would very much like to see a shot of adrenaline go into the downtown. I am not anti-development. I would love to see developers come in and love to see it work. I am concerned that it is handled in the proper way," Holt said. "I want to take it to the public at the right time and discuss it. The right time is now."
Both Holt and board member Robert Gramoll opposed closing a meeting to discuss the deal in an RDA meeting in February.
Holt and Gramoll wanted to discuss publicly the level the redevelopment agency will participate with the developers, the timing of contacting property owners, along with potential condemnation proceedings and relocation action. The board voted 4-2 to go into a closed session, the meeting's minutes said.
According to the minutes, Stahle told the board that private developers would not be interested if dealing with the RDA if preliminary negotiations and discussions, where no decisions are made, could not be kept confidential.
The RDA already owns over half of the block including some vacant land, Main Street stores and the former Bountiful Medical Center. The agency would have to either buy or condemn the rest of buildings that front Main Street including the Main Street landmarks of Bountiful Drug and the Davis County Co-op. The RDA has been preliminary contacts with property owners, Lana Hardy said.
"Three of the property owners are willing to sell, we are still working with one," Lana Hardy said.
Officials would not disclose the status of negotiations with any of the landowners.