SALT LAKE CITY — Where the Sugar House Shopko once stood near 1300 East and I-80 is now a busy construction site. And by mid-2019, it will be replaced with what city officials are calling a "premier" residential and business development.
That means a new 170,000-square-foot University of Utah health center, a 150,000-square-foot multitenant office building, a 150-unit residential building, and 1,200 stalls of underground parking, city officials announced at the development's groundbreaking ceremony Wednesday.
"This is a thrilling time to be in Sugar House," said Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski. "At $150 million, this project is set to be the largest economic investment outside of downtown Salt Lake City in a number of years."
Greg Geiger, principal for the project's owner, Westport Capital Partners LLC, said his company purchased the former Shopko parcel to build the 9-acre project — coined Park Ave — "because we saw an underutilized space that did not reflect the vibrancy and opportunity that is Sugar House."
But the project — expected to bring in about 700 workers and residents a day — is leaving some Sugar House residents discouraged and nervous, concerned that their neighborhood is already buckling under traffic, parking and density problems.
"Sugar House is already so busy. People already get frustrated when they go in the area and there's nowhere to park," said Bliss Straw, who has lived in the neighborhood south of Sugarhouse Park for 18 years.
Like Straw, another Sugar House resident, Sarah-beth Faull, worries big developments have "jeopardized" the quaint "charm" of her neighborhood.
"My biggest concern is the increase in housing," Faull said. "There's so many developments everywhere. They just bring more and more people."
But Salt Lake City Councilwoman Lisa Adams, whose district encompasses the neighborhood, and Judi Short, Sugar House Community Council vice chairwoman, said most Sugar House residents have been generally supportive of the project, though concerns of traffic and parking will always persist in the area.
"Generally people have been pretty positive," Adams said, noting that "because (Park Avenue) is on the edge of Sugar House and has access to the freeway, there isn't quite the same concern about traffic as there is in the center of Sugar House."
Short also noted that the development will have "good freeway access" and it includes a vast amount of parking.
As for Sugar House residents hoping to avoid traffic and parking problems, Short said, "That train has already left the station."
"You can't make the roads wider unless we take somebody's house out or somebody's business out. That's not going to happen," she said. "There's always going to be traffic. But there's also the hope that some of these apartments will be the home for some of the people that work in the office, so they wouldn't have to drive, they could just walk."
Short joked that she's "only" lived in Sugar House 41 years, but she acknowledges development is a part of Sugar House's reality. "I've seen a lot of change. It used to be a real sleepy town, and now it's a vibrant town," she said.
Biskupski said she and city leaders are "excited" to bring a new U. health center to the neighborhood, increasing access to "top-notch medical services."
University of Utah Health surgeon Dr. Richard Orlandi said the center will be five stories tall and will act as a "one-stop shop" for patients, with outpatient care, specialty providers and urgent care.
Short said many Sugar House residents are "excited" to see the new health center come to their neighborhood. Faull said she is supportive of that aspect of the plan, she just wishes it wasn't going to come with a new multifamily housing building.
The project's 150-unit residential building will include street-level retail spaces and an art gallery, city officials said. Stringham Avenue will also reopen to connect 1300 East to Highland Drive.
Colby Durnin, CEO of Sentinel Development, said the project was designed to help "alleviate traffic" with Stringham Avenue and freeway access while also not impacting existing nearby businesses by bringing in new competition.
Durnin also said the project is expected to house all market-rate units, with no plans to include affordable units.
That's one aspect of the plan Adams said she's disappointed in because Sugar House is "sorely lacking in affordable housing."