The owner of what is now one of Sugar House's most eclectic retail districts says his planned redevelopment will add value to the neighborhood while preserving its unique identity and that he is committed to improving the area, not destroying it.
"I have been in Sugar House for 25 to 30 years," Craig Mecham said Monday. "I want what's best for it, and I think that this (development) will improve the overall business-scape of Sugar House. I think it will be a great improvement over what's there now."
Mecham owns much of Sugar House's "Granite Block" the area bordered by 2100 South, Highland Drive, Sugarmont Drive and McClelland Street including the structure that now houses the Blue Boutique, Sugar House Coffee and Orion's Music, The Free Speech Zone and around to Zions Bank.
Many of those retailers have received eviction notices, and they, along with community leaders and activists, have expressed concern at what might become of the neighborhood's funky appeal. Many of the merchants said even if they could wait out the redevelopment period, they wouldn't be able to afford the rent in the new retail space.
But Mecham said the current building is dangerously unfit and only becoming more so.
"The building is extremely dilapidated," he said. "If we don't take it down it will fall down. It's very old, and it's antiquated, and there are some serious problems with that building that would be very costly to fix. It could be fixed, but it'd be very costly, and I don't think it maximizes the value of that ground."
While the new project may price some merchants out of the market, Mecham said it will be an upgrade to what is currently there and will provide new, different opportunities for the community.
"We want to kind of keep the flavor of what's there now, though it will be an upgrade," Mecham said. "It won't be quite as eclectic as what it is now. But when we get through, I think it'll contribute more to a 24/7 environment for Sugar House, and I am hopeful that it will attract all age groups and all kinds of people, including families."
Mecham said he has enlisted the services of an architectural firm based in Sugar House, and he is "hopeful" that the resulting project will reflect Sugar House's identity and feel. Those plans were not available as of Monday.
"In my opinion, it will enhance property values, strengthen retail and generally help the business climate of Sugar House," he said.
Mecham did not disclose the overall cost of the proposed project, though he characterized his investment, and commitment, as "major."
As soon as this summer, if plans proceed as tentatively scheduled, Mecham said the bulk of the buildings from 2144 S. Highland to the corner, and then down about 150 feet will be demolished to make way for upscale condominiums, office space and street-level retail. The buildings will be five or six stories tall.
Demolition and construction will be staged from the inside of the block, not from the street, so Mecham said traffic disruption in the area should be minimal.
From start to finish, Mecham said the redevelopment ideally will take 12 to 18 months.
"I just think it's time," he said. "I think that the property value isn't being maximized right now. ..."I could sell it, and I've had many people offer to buy it. But I've opted not to do that because I like Sugar House. I feel a part of Sugar House. I've worked here for 30 years, and my grandfather owned property there before I came along. So I have a vested interest in Sugar House. I think it's a great place to work and live."
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