The developer is standing in front of rows full of dignitaries. He pulls his glasses out of his pocket. These are my rose-colored glasses, he says. He invites his audience to put on theirs, too.
The view out the big windows behind him is a rather cheerless expanse of railroad tracks and pipes and toxic waste. But the developer, through his rose-colored glasses, can see something else.Roger Boyer has done hundreds of developments in his career. Ten million square feet so far - the spatial equivalent of about 2,000 basketball courts, just to give you a visual idea. And 4 million more square feet are in the works. But this development, the one he proposes on 40 acres just west of the Union Pacific Depot, could be his grandest.
Mayor Deedee Corradini calls it the crown jewel of the city's redevelopment plans for the west side area about to be reborn as "The Gateway District." Boyer's 40 acres are just a fraction of Gateway, but it is his project that has gotten the public's attention, with its promise of sidewalk cafes, a festive plaza, maybe even a Planet Hollywood. The mayor promises that all this will make Gateway as cool as Greenwich Village.
Along with all the attention, though, have come questions and allegations. You see them in letters to the editor; you hear the grumbling among longtime civic activists and in the city's alternative press: Has Corradini made some kind of deal with Roger Boyer? In her rush to make Salt Lake cool in time for the 2002 Olympics, is the mayor making the best decisions for Salt Lake? Does The Boyer Co. have the right sensibilities to create a whole urban neighborhood from scratch on the last frontier of downtown real estate?
When he takes off his rose-colored glasses, Roger Boyer finds himself in the middle of a controversy about the city's future. And in the middle of a backlash against his own success.
Projects breed resentment
Developers don't think like some of the rest of us. Where we see a stretch of empty landscape - a vista, some wild grasses blowing in the wind - the developer sees opportunity. He sees not what's there but what isn't. He gets out of his car and looks around; later he buys and subdivides and brings in bulldozers. He upsets the status quo.
So it isn't surprising that sometimes, along with the dust, he finds that he has stirred up contention.
In some ways, The Boyer Co. keeps a low profile. Its 75-member staff, for example, includes no public relations person. Still, you can't develop millions of square feet of office and retail space in a state and expect that no one will notice you. Maybe even resent you.
The resentment started early on in the company's history. In the late 1970s, Boyer petitioned Salt Lake City to annex part of Emigration Canyon so it could use city water for the building lots it wanted to develop in the canyon.
Canyon residents who wanted the canyon to stay the way it was fought back. There were charges of improper land trades; then the annexation vote became bogged down in lawsuits and technicalities. Boyer eventually found water elsewhere and went on to develop 155 lots in the canyon anyway. "Starter mansions," gripes architect Bob Bliss, former dean of the University of Utah Graduate School of Architecture, who wishes the back country of Emigration Canyon had been left to hikers and sheep.
Some longtime canyon residents still distrust Boyer. They point to the company's ability to get preliminary approval from the Salt Lake County Commission for Phase 6 of the Emigration Oaks development - approval including a secondary access road that would run through the living room of Richard and Ursula Pimentel.
The Pimentels and three other families ended up suing the county, charging, among other things, that the approval process unfairly favored The Boyer Co. and was made in violation of Utah's open-meetings law.
"Boyer has political clout," Ursula Pimentel was quoted as saying at the time, "and the company is using it and our rights are being violated in the process."
The company has since decided to build a different access road. "I never intended to build that road" through the Pimentels' house, says Kem Gardner, Boyer's business partner.
Partners in development
Roger Boyer, people will tell you, is the quiet one. The one who prefers not talking to reporters and community councils. Kem Gardner, his business partner, is the chummy one. The one who lunges forward with a handshake. The one who, if you visit the company's offices at the corner of 500 East and 100 South, will offer to take your coat and get you something to drink. Boyer is the one who will, reluctantly it seems, sit in on part of an interview, looking slightly uncomfortable.
He knows, perhaps, that when you are as successful as he and Gardner have become, people will try to explain you. They will look past your shrewd business sense and your thoroughness and will try to detect what might be the subtler reasons for your success.
Roger Boyer is the Republican one, people will tell you. Kem Gardner is the Democrat. Individually and as a company they have supported a broad range of candidates on both sides of the aisle. "Kem courts people," says former Salt Lake City Council member Sydney Fonnesbeck.
Of course "there's not a developer around who doesn't show up at golf tournaments and parties," notes former Salt Lake County Commissioner Jim Bradley. Boyer and Gardner have just been at it longer than some.
Together, perhaps, they know everyone that matters, and the result is a sort of old-Boyer network of politicians and businessmen who run in the small, powerful circles that run Utah.
Chemical magnate Jon Huntsman, for example, is a friend from the neighborhood and from church. Not long ago, The Boyer Co. developed the Huntsman Chemical Corp. headquarters in Research Park, and now they are doing the $70 million Huntsman Cancer Research Center. And mega-housing developer Ellis Ivory is Boyer's brother-in-law.
Both Gardner and Boyer have served on significant community boards: Boyer was chairman of the Salt Lake Area Chamber of Commerce and chairman of the Utah Economic Development Board; Gardner has been chairman of the State Board of Regents. Both men have served as mission presidents for the LDS Church.
Former Salt Lake City Mayor Ted Wilson has been a friend of both Boyer and Gardner since the days when The Boyer Co. occupied a tiny office near the bowling alley in Sugar House.
"They're among the first to hear what's going on," says Wilson. "They keep ahead of the power curve." Because of their ability to network, they might hear about a parcel of land that's for sale or a project that will be going out for bid. "Nobody, with the exception maybe of (developer) John Price, has more contacts with (prospective) tenants," says Ivory.
And, of course, the more projects they do, the more projects they get to do. A very short list includes big names like Stephen Covey's new Leadership Center, Health Rider, NuSkin, Novell, Intermountain Health Care clinics.
Boyer has done five buildings that house state offices. Two of them - the Board of Education building and the Social Services building - ended up making headlines. It seems that sewage was backing up into water fountains, and the floors crunched and sagged. People still bring up those two buildings when they want to say something bad about The Boyer Co.
"Admittedly, the buildings were not the quality we're doing now," Gardner says. What he is proud of, he says, is that the company didn't walk away from the problems but instead spent a lot of money upgrading the buildings.
The company's current big projects include two high-profile shopping centers: an "entertainment-retail" complex tentatively called Chimney Ridge, on the site of Murray's famous but contaminated brick smokestacks; and The Commons in Sugarhouse, on the corner of Highland Drive and 2100 South. Both are joint projects with Johansen-Thackeray and Co.
In both cases Johansen-Thackeray came to Boyer seeking the company's help - not only with financing but to utilize Boyer's adroitness with planning and zoning. Boyer's people know how to maneuver their way through the planning and zoning process, cutting down the time it takes to walk through all the steps.
Canyon Cove questions
Some less charitable observers charge that The Boyer Co. not only understands the process but sometimes manages to circumvent it.
"(Salt Lake County Commissioner Randy) Horiuchi's relationship with The Boyer Co. should be examined by the grand jury," urged Canyon Cove homeowner West Pehrson in a letter to the editor in 1994.
Boyer angered Canyon Cove residents when he unveiled his plans for a project called Big Cottonwood Canyon Estates, at the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon.
Boyer's plan is to develop 50 acres of hillside next to the Holladay Gun Club. It's a rather steep hillside, so steep in fact that Boyer had to ask the county to grant an exception to its Hillside Protection Ordinance so that a zigzagging access road could be cut into the hill's steep grade.
Over the objection of residents, the gun club, wildlife and water agencies and even the county's Planning Commission, county commissioners approved the road - prompting people like Pehrson to wonder why the commissioners are so loyal to developers.
Gardner says he feels good about the road. The Boyer Co. has responded to the objections of the water agencies, he says. "I wouldn't do the road if I didn't think it could be done in a safe and environmentally pleasing manner."
Salt Lake City Council member Deeda Seed has a bad taste in her mouth about The Boyer Co. from a run-in five years ago. The company was looking to buy up property just a little south of the Gateway area for some tenants who wanted to build big-box stores. According to Seed, the company threatened residents that if they didn't sell their houses at the price Boyer wanted, the RDA would come in and condemn them.
Seed, who wasn't on the City Council at the time, made a flier with a picture of a hawk swooping down. The hawk, she says, was Boyer.
Actually, the landlords of the houses in the neighborhood wanted to sell, says Gardner. Still, he's sorry that the people who lived there were scared of losing their homes.
In the end, the city told Boyer that it didn't want the area to go commercial. "So we backed off," says Gardner.
Now, looking back on it, he says Seed was right. "The last thing I would want is to take housing away," he says. Recently, he says, he has been appointed to the Neighborhood Housing board and will help with a new Crusade for the Homeless.
He and Boyer have lived here their whole lives, he points out. They want to do projects that are good for the community, he says.
One Utah Center
Stand anywhere along the east bench and you can see The Boyer Co.'s most well-known building, its copper roof gleaming in the afternoon light.
Boyer first came forward with a proposal for the One Utah Center building in 1988 and immediately was accused of trying to weasel a deal with the city.
At the center of the controversy was the city's hapless "Block 57" - a sluggish, dilapidated block the city was hoping to renovate. Boyer's proposal was this: I'll build a signature building on the block in return for a $4.3 million tax break. This outraged those who wondered why a private developer should get city money to do what he could on his own.
Former Salt Lake City Mayor Palmer DePaulis explains the city's reasoning in finally approving a $2.5 million tax break funded by redevelopment money: "Block 57 was an eyesore," he recalls. "And the city was in dire, dire shape. When I took office, Triad (Adnan Kashoggi's big plans for the Triad Center block) had collapsed, downtown was on the wane and the economy was on the ropes."
It was The Boyer Co., says DePaulis, that stepped up with a viable plan when no one else would. "The amazing thing about The Boyer Co. is that their timing is always good," says former City Council member Tom Godfrey.
In the end, though, it turned out there wasn't any RDA money to help cover the cost of the land and building. The city did agree to use RDA money to build underground parking, under the condition that Boyer would pay the city rent for the parking spaces. Both Boyer and the city had to pay for the extra materials needed to shore up the plaza that sits on top of the garage.
"The deal was so sketchy that no one knew who was supposed to pay for what," says Alice Steiner, current RDA executive director. Even though she thinks the negotiations ended up being fair, confusion over the contract made people think the city was taken for a ride.
So this is the buzz: Boyer gets his way and Boyer gets deals and Gateway is one of those deals.
The grumbling is that The Boyer Co. - which donated $13,500 to Corradini's 1995 campaign - had advance information about the city's plan to get Union Pacific to remove railroad tracks in the Gateway area, making the land suddenly ripe for development. The buzz is that the mayor will do anything to help the Boyer project along because she's desperate to have an Olympic-size showpiece in time for the 2002 Olympics.
Certainly, the buzz goes, the mayor chose 600 West and 200 South as the site for an "intermodal transit hub" because that's what Boyer wants (so that train tracks won't run through his development). That must have been part of the deal.
There was no deal, says Salt Lake city planner Doug Dansie. "I'm impatient with the conspiracy theories. If someone has substance, please step forward." And Boyer had nothing to do with the hub location, says Dansie. "Boyer got blamed for something he didn't do."
"They're just another developer, as far as we're concerned," says Deputy Mayor Brian Hatch.
Boyer currently has only an option to buy the 40 acres behind the UP Depot, an option that runs out in mid-August. According to Boyer and Gardner, they first became interested in the land when they were contacted by the Jerde Partnership, a California developer famous for San Diego's Horton Plaza.
The call from Jerde came about a year ago, says Boyer. That would be after the city had already expressed an interest in striking a deal with the UP to remove railroad tracks from the 40 acres but before the deal had gone through.
Jerde knew that the UP was interested in selling the 40 acres behind the depot, says Boyer, because Jerde has developed other UP land in other cities.
Why didn't the UP do more of a full-blown national search for a buyer/developer, wonders one downtown insider. "It short-circuits what you would expect would happen if you wanted to get top money for your property."
Jerde contacted Boyer because it was looking for a local developer to help with the project, says Gardner. That turned out to be a smart move, because the only other company that put in a bid for the land was also from California. And when Union Pacific called in the city to ask for its opinion about which of the two bidders would do the better job, the city recommended Jerde/Boyer.
If that makes it look like the mayor was trying to help out her friend, that's only a coincidence, says Dansie. The city recommended Jerde/Boyer, he says, because the other bidder wanted to build a mall on the land and the city doesn't want a traditional mall there.
The city says it wants an "urban neighborhood" that revolves around pedestrians and the residents who live and work there.
Vision for Gateway
"Funky" is how the mayor describes her vision for the 650 Gateway acres on Salt Lake's west side, between North Temple and 900 South, 300 West and I-15.
Can The Boyer Co. deliver?
"They've produced bad design, historically," says one prominent local architect who asked to remain anonymous. Boyer's critics call his developments mediocre, saying he has tended to hire average architects who produce standard brick-and-glass office buildings and shopping centers.
The first drawings that Boyer/Jerde submitted to the city's planning office for the Gateway development were pretty generic, says planner Dansie. There was a stucco mission-style tower, reminiscent of Horton Plaza. But the company has been receptive to the planning office's suggestions, says Dansie, and current drawings have more of a Utah feel.
Of course not everybody agrees what makes good architecture. Architect Bob Bliss has seen preliminary drawings of Boyer's Gateway and calls it "cutesy . . . false history . . . a stage set."
Citizen criticism and input seem to be forcing The Boyer Co. to produce more pedestrian-friendly, people-scale projects than it once did. Boyer freely uses words now like "experiential placemaking," and "streetscape" - terms that used to only be thrown about by avante-garde planners.
A Boyer project currently going up on the corner of Highland Drive and 2100 South is a little less convincing but still sort of promising. Boyer/Johansen-Thackeray originally came to Salt Lake planners with a fairly traditional shopping center - a design dictated by the desires of their prospective anchor tenants, who like big-box design and doorways that face into a courtyard, not out to the street.
After 18 months of discussions with the Sugarhouse Community Council, the design has been amended to include at least a few streetside doors and windows, plus a water feature and a landscaped connection to Hidden Hollow.
Boyer's Gateway plans include 600,000 square feet of entertainment and retail; 750,000 of office space, a 250-room hotel and 700 residential units.
The company hopes to attract national "lifestyle" and entertainment franchises - Virgin Records, Crate and Barrel, Z Gallery. It's a retail lineup that excites some - and leaves Boyer's detractors worrying that you'll be able to stand in the middle of it all and not even know you're in Salt Lake City.
They worry that the project will be trendy but that the housing won't be affordable enough. They worry that the mayor will push for city redevelopment funding and bring in federal grants and maybe even Olympics hotel contracts for Boyer - and that all this will be done without thinking about whether the project will take shoppers away from an already beleaguered Main Street.
Boyer's concept is exciting, says real estate investor John Milliken, but Main Street is "fragile." Boyer's project "will be like Disneyland," says City Council member Seed. "People will go to Disneyland instead of downtown. . . . I'm concerned that we aren't taking care of what we already have."
City planner Dansie disagrees. The Boyer project, he argues, "complements" Main Street. "It adds a new level of entertainment"that will draw people from the suburbs and will put them within light rail or trolley distance of Main Street.
Sure, the real Greenwich Village wasn't built in a day, or even the four years Corradini will allow before the Olympics. Sure, a real Greenwich Village evolves naturally. But who, ask Boyer and Gardner, has time for that? "You need to make an impact," if you expect a critical mass of people to come, says Gardner. "You've got to create a place."
The developer is sitting at a table with his business partner, talking about his plans to create a neighborhood from scratch. The talk turns to the people who wonder if Boyer's Gateway is driving public policy, to all the hurdles that must be crossed - the financing that must be found, the infrastructure that must be figured out, the master plan that must be complied with, the toxic waste that must be removed.
"I sometimes wonder why we're doing it," sighs Boyer. "Why are you?" his visitor asks.
"Because it's there," he says.
You can imagine the developer getting out of his car. He surveys the land: flat, toxic, pretty much empty. He puts on his rose-colored glasses.
If all goes well, they could start building next June.