LEHI On paper, it looks like the beginning of a joke: What do Prague, Barcelona and Dusseldorf have in common with Lehi?
The answer is legendary architect Frank Gehry.
And while jaws may drop at an announcement that Gehry will soon be designing an urban-inspired community in northern Lehi, it's definitely serious and nobody's laughing.
Utah County entrepreneur and real estate developer Brandt Andersen
announced Friday that he plans to build a five-star hotel, residential neighborhood, lake, shopping district and convention center/arena near the Point of the Mountain just off of I-15.
"This is a very unique site," Andersen said. "And as an iconic piece of property between Salt Lake County and Utah County, it was crucial that we create, and bring in someone who could help us create, a development that would stand as an icon for the state, and particularly for Lehi city. In thinking that, there was obviously no other choice than world-famous Frank Gehry."
Further details of the development will be released on Jan. 31 along with a model of what the buildings may look like, but Andersen says he envisions that the community will be designed to foster an active lifestyle.
The project will likely be centered on a man-made lake, Andersen said, which will be open to wake boarding and waterskiing.
The project proposal, still in its early stages, has not been submitted to Lehi officials. But although the land will require a zone change, Lehi officials are so far welcoming the idea.
Andersen doesn't yet know the project's estimated cost or if he will ultimately seek public funds to help pay for it, but he is sure of one thing: if Gehry is doing the project, it will be worth it.
"It seemed like Frank was the right choice," Andersen said. "Working with him is just an amazing experience. I believe he will create something that meshes with the environment but maintains the true Gehry style."
That doesn't mean that the building will be traditionally pretty, however.
Gehry, who has designed and won prestigious awards for numerous office buildings, concert halls and museums including the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Spain says his job is to make a structure that, at first, looks "strange." His famous designs are sometimes curved and sinuous, while other buildings appear tilted and askew.
"The idea of doing something special architecturally means it's going to look weird when you first see it," Gehry said. "It would be my intent to make something that's not an eyesore, but something that will be impressive."
Gehry already has a long list of projects that are impressive, including his plans to design the future basketball arena for the NBA's New Jersey Nets.
The arena, on which London-based Barclay's Bank will be spending about $300 million to have it named after its institution, was announced on Thursday.
Gehry attended the announcement, which was hosted at the Brooklyn Museum in New York, along with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, rapper Jay-Z and NBA Commissioner David Stern.
On Friday, he rubbed elbows at a lunch table with Lehi Mayor Howard Johnson, and he faced a room of people, some of whom had never before heard of him.
Although Gehry should be accustomed to popularity, as he casually mentioned meeting Clint Eastwood and talked about turning down Donald Trump multiple times, the "starchitect" says he likes the anonymity Utah County can give him.
He also doesn't mind that Lehi is little, compared to other cities he has worked in. In fact, it's one of the reasons Gehry agreed to take the project.
"It's very enticing, because when you do something in a big city, the bureaucracy runs at you," Gehry said. "When you can get into a smaller place where you can actually have lunch with the mayor, it all leads to a much richer project."
Although Johnson may enjoy having lunch with Gehry, his eye is on something else, and it's not the fame that could come to Lehi with a well-known architect.
Johnson is most excited about the project's proposed lake, which Andersen has agreed to let Lehi use as a secondary irrigation reservoir. The city would be able to store water in the lake and use it when necessary.