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Mike Terry, Deseret Morning News
A new development could contain the same number of parking stalls as the current lot west of Rice-Eccles Stadium.

A vibrant and energized corner of the University of Utah campus may be the next thing to hit Salt Lake City's growing number of developments.

Planners at the U. are seeking input from community members as well as interested developers who can help design and build a mixed-use development on the nearly eight acres directly west of Rice-Eccles Stadium — currently a slab of concrete parking stalls.

"A development like this could really energize that entry into campus so that it's more engaging, more receiving and provides a benefit to the neighboring community," said Mike Perez, associate vice president of facilities management at the U. He said residents might look forward to "seeing a pleasant environment coupled with commercial enterprises that would be of value to their community as well as the university."

While parking is a hot commodity on the largely commuter-based campus, the new development would potentially contain at least the same number of parking spaces, as well as complement surrounding structures and homes and the mass-transit station already there.

Officials are looking to load the space with options for offices that extend campus administration and business as well as for retail establishments and condominium or apartment housing.

"It's just a surface parking lot and there's a wonderful opportunity given the edge of campus and the TRAX system there, the opportunity for energizing that with potential housing and commercial application along with the added square footage for university uses," Perez said.

Project Universe, as it is being called, grew out of an idea generated in a graduate-level architecture studio course. It has worked its way into the campus' master plan, which has been a year in the making and may hit a wall only when it comes to funding.

It's unknown whether the usable area is large enough to create the potential of a viable revenue stream that would be enticing to developers. Most mixed-use developments are funded by developers hoping to capitalize on the property, which in this case, could be contributed to the project with an assessed value.

"The university's interest is not in making money. The university's interest is in creating a vibrant, exciting entry onto campus at that strategic location and to secure appropriate levels of housing that will be available to our campus community coupled with the opportunity of obtaining square footage for administrative use," Perez said.

The project remains in the conceptual phase and a committee made up of citizens and other officials is making the rounds to various city and community processes gathering input and feedback on the project's many and various possibilities.

The university, however, does not need approval from the various governing bodies, but would only like to work with the community to "create mutually exclusive benefits," Perez said, "making it a win-win for all involved."

Upon development of the concept — if the opportunity can be identified — he said the project would need approval from the U.'s Board of Trustees, the state Board of Regents, the state Building Board and ultimately the Utah State Legislature.

"It's my hope there will be a number of developers who see this as an intriguing, interesting and exciting project and would be interested in pursuing it," Perez said. The "cool, ingenious" idea, he said, would be a way to not only spice up the appearance of campus, but wrap up existing mass transit opportunities and the various stadium and community events held in the area in a nice package.

The Salt Lake City Historic Landmark Commission will be hearing the project's request for qualifications next week, with the Planning Commission scheduled to advise on the process April 9.

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