Don’t Get Me Started, Regulars and Shorts

Don’t Get Me Started: Locating the Cop Shop

By John deJong

Put it where it belongs, or so no in November.

by John deJong

Salt Lake City needs to build a new public safety complex to house the police and fire departments. A $125 million bond to finance the complex is on the ballot in November.

The police spend a lot of their time arraigning suspects and appearing in court, at either the Matheson Courthouse or the soon to be expanded Frank Moss Federal Courthouse on Fourth South and Main Street (the old Post Office). Another strong interaction is with the Salt Lake District Attorney’s office which, coincidently, is also looking for a new home. Yet the powers that be (not necessarily the Mayor, possibly Salt Lake City’s famously encrusted planning bureaucracy, and most likely powerful real estate interests) want to put the public safety complex on the block east of the Salt Lake Main Library, two and three blocks from the courthouses. Why?

Maybe some deserving real estate mogul needs to be cashed out of hisproperty east of the library. Maybe some other real estate mogul wants to hold on to his property till he can build a ginormous convention mega-hotel on his property. Maybe some entrenched bureaucrats in city hall have been looking at their dusty master plans with the public safety complex penciled in east of the library for so long they can’t seriously consider any other location.

At the dawn of the post-oil age, Salt Lake City is planning to build a public safety complex that guarantees that police will have to jump into their cars (or take TRAX ) and travel two or three blocks for every prisoner transfer, every arraignment hearing and every court date they are required to attend till taxpayers are asked to build another public safety building in 2050 (about when taxpayers get the bond for this one paid off, should they approve it).

Now would seem to be a good time to look at the police’s interactions and plan accordingly.

Architectural renderings are usually accompanied by programmatic displays with short fat arrows and long thin arrows diagramming frequency and importance of the interactions between the project occupants and the rest of the world. The current plan for the public safety complex appears to have it backwards, with a lot of long fat arrows, like trips to the court houses and city hall, and a bunch of short thin arrows, such as trips to the coffee shop (will the Salt Lake Roasting Company, bordering the intended site, have to move?) and the 7- Eleven.

The current plan to locate the public safety complex on a third of the block east of Library Square (two and three blocks from the Matheson and Moss courthouses) is as far-fetched an idea as putting Salt Lake City’s much needed mega-convention hotel three blocks from the Rampton Convention Center. Salt Lake City apparently needs a mega-convention hotel (1,000 rooms or more) to attract large conventions.

Which brings to mind the perfect location for the pubic safety complex: Earl Holding’s deluxe surface parking lot on 400 South between Main and West Temple. It’s Earl Holding’s dream to put a ginormous mega-hotel/convention center on the block he owns north of Little America. He ran the idea up the flag poll last spring but it was quickly shot down when Salt Lake County realized it would have to spend a couple of hundred million dollars to replace the existing Rampton Convention center or end up with the only convention mega-hotel in town three long Salt Lake City blocks from the convention center.

Years ago, Earl Holding had no qualms about asking the Salt Lake City Redevelopment Agency to use the government’s power of eminent domain to forcefully acquire property to complete his Grand America plans. The idea was that the area was “blighted” and Holding needed that power to acquire the last hold-outs at below-market values. Not to mention a couple of million dollars of tax incentives to abolish the “blight.” Never mind that the main cause of the “blight” was Holding’s practice of buying properties and letting them deteriorate until he demolished them. In a rare fit of good sense, the RDA turned him down.

They say turn-about is fair play. The city should exercise its power of eminent domain to acquire Holding’s property and put the public safety complex in the logical location. Holding has held on to that property for more than 20 years. I can think of two reasons why Earl Holding wouldn’t want the cop shop across the street from Little America. The first one is obvious (who would want to be on the receiving end of eminent domain?). The second is an old-fashioned case of NOMFP (Not On My Front Porch). Everyone wants police and fire protection but no one wants to deal with sirens and criminals.

Salt Lake City needs to step back and look at the interactions between the police and other agencies and then put the public safety complex in the right place-which may not be the same place real estate moguls and bureaucrats want to put it. Until that study is done, the citizens of Salt Lake City should refuse to approve the bond for the public safety complex.

Details, details

In the 1980s the Salt Lake City Redevelopment Agency (RDA) spent $25 million on downtown’s Gallivan Plaza, where those rockin’ summer concerts happen. The RDA (another encrustation of bureaucrats whose main purpose seems to be getting taxpayers to assist struggling developers improve their bottom line-the developers’ bottom line, that is) is ready to spend an additional projected $6 million to add amenities the original design overlooked. Like bathrooms.

That’s $6 million the RDA won’t spend on housing (which would also include bathrooms).

Certainly the Thursday evening summer concerts draw a huge crowd. But most of the rest of the time, the plaza is so deserted it needs a security guard to keep the homeless from camping out there.

The main feature of the rebuild will be a two-story building along 200 South to accommodate sky boxes for concert sponsors. The building will spoil what is still a magnificent view of the Wasatch Front from 200 South.

For $6 million we could start a concert endowment and end the cycle of begging. Sure, Gallivan Plaza needs more toilets (where were those in the initial program?) but even 20 years after the military’s $800 toilet seats, $6 million is a lot for a loo.

John deJong is the associate publisher of CATALYST.



This article was originally published on July 30, 2009.