Features and Occasionals

The Granary District

By Shane Farver

It may look to the casual passerby like an urban sacrifice zone—the area encompassing foundaries, factories and warehouses that have seen better, more purposeful days. Along with the concrete silos, abandoned scrap iron recycling yard and an auto body shop with guard chickens, the industrial and railway corridor of Salt Lake City that extends from 6th South to 10th South, and from 3rd West to I-15 also houses a Tibetan Buddhist temple, an excellent restaurant, an alternative music all-ages venue, a pyramid with mummies in it, a cupcake shop, a couple art collectives and, soon, Utah’s first net-zero mixed-use building with onsite solar production.

Dubbed the Granary District by the Salt Lake Redevelopment Agency, the area will garner more attention from the broader community this summer as the Granary Row project gains momentum.

James Alfandre is the executive director of the Kentlands Initiative, a nonprofit urban planning group dedicated to reimagining neighborhoods through crowdsourced and local involvement. The group’s latest project, Granary Row, emerges this month. Shipping containers serving as micro retail space and model micro housing will move to the middle of 7th South between 3rd and 4th West. Vehicles will still travel on the outside of the streets, but the center will be dedicated to shopping and entertainment.

“We’re going from a car priority where pedestrians are tolerated to a pedestrian priority where cars are tolerated,” says Christian Harrison, a Kentlands Initiative partner.

Thursdays and Fridays from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., June through September, Granary Row will be open for business, allowing people to peruse and shop. People can also visit a cupcake shop, a bike shop or two artist cooperatives.

In addition to the crates, organizers envision a stage for spoken word and other performances, with visitors stopping by Kilby Court for a concert or a food truck for a snack or tossing a couple of beers back at Uinta Brewing Co.’s beer garden, which will be constructed out of pallets.

The spaces, leased at $250 per month, require a six-month lease. Businesses can also lease tents by the week, for $50.

The Kentlands Initiative became involved with Salt Lake City after Alfandre, a former Utahn who was living in the east, got online and sought urban planning ideas from residents in Salt Lake City, Atlanta and Wash­ington, D.C. He received the best crowdsourced response from Salt Lake City. So he moved here to invest his energy in the Granary District. The Granary Row project arose out of a planning charrette that Kentlands held last year.

Although the Granary Row fixtures are temporary, Alfandre hopes they seed a more permanent business establishment in the district. If businesses housed in the containers like what they see, Alfandre wants them to move to a brick-and-mortar location in one of the area’s vacant buildings.

It’s no accident that the shipping containers and pallet beer garden might evoke an industrial feel. The district has a blue-collar heritage, one that the Kentlands Initiative has identified as “gritty, diverse, and grounded.” Alfandre wants to keep it that way.

“There has to be something unique about a neighborhood that’s identifiable,” he says. “I’m a creature of the suburbs, unfortunately. I grew up in the suburbs, and it was a thousand shades of beige wherever you looked.”

Beige, the Granary District is not. Its palette is one of bright red, found inside the Ruby Snap cookie shop, the sunshine yellow of Frida Bistro, or the metaphorical green hue of environmental nonprofits housed in Artspace Commons. This is in contrast to the cinderblock grey and ruddy brick that the district is also known for. But those muted colors are not ones residents necessarily want to rid themselves of.

“Everything has a reason for being,” says Jorge Fierro, CEO of Fierro Group, the parent company of Rico Brand food products and Frida Bistro. When he first looked at a warehouse in the Granary District to house Rico, Fierro says his brother told him not to go through with it. It was too much work, his brother said.

Nine years after opening Rico and three years after opening Frida Bistro, Fierro has his own descriptors for the hodgepodge mix of craftsmanship, artistry and culinary arts that is the Granary District.

“It’s chic, and it’s unexpected,” he says.

Tami Steggell, owner of the Ruby Snap cookie shop, didn’t have the word “chic” on her mind when she first located in the Granary District. She was focusing upon dollars instead. She didn’t want to take a gigantic risk when opening up her shop, and property in the district was cheap. She cashed a $10,000 IRA and started her business.

Now, she sees potential.

“I want this [neighborhood] to be the soul of the city, not Anytown, America,” she says.

Steggell has taken part in some of the community-based planning hosted by the Kentlands Initiative. The group has hosted two block parties, several coffee klatches, and the seven-day planning charrette in which residents articulated a vision for the district that was recorded in a book filled with design ideas and plans. An additional planning session for the Kilby Court block is scheduled for June 3. Kentlands has also created a site in which it crowdsources ideas and responses via the Internet. The site has more than 320 members.

Nan Seymour, executive director of Local First Utah, recently moved her nonprofit to the Central Ninth neighborhood just outside of the Granary District. The ethos behind that area of Salt Lake City is one of retaining identity, she says.

“There is a resistance to gentrification,” she says.

Local businesses, which Seymour says can be more passion driven than bottom-line driven, can find a home in places like the Granary District.

“That’s a fit for the kind of development that’s happening here,” she said.

The district can live up to its industrial heritage, says Salt Lake City Councilman Kyle LaMalfa.

Kentlands’ neighborhood-up and crowdsourced approach is demonstrably different from the normal process of a city’s planning division dictating development, LaMalfa says. Although the information from Kentlands charrette has caused some concern in Salt Lake City’s planning division and might occasionally not take other areas of the city and their effects into account, the initiative has produced some solid planning documents, he says.

“I think the boldest move of the Kentlands Initiative is the notion of a citizen-driven planning process,” LaMalfa says.

The city has supported some of Kentlands efforts, providing $25,800 to the planning charrette and dedicating $125,000 to the Granary Row project, $25,000 of which is pending board adoption in June. Kentlands also received more than $250,000 of in-kind donations from local and national architects and planners.

Regardless of where the money comes from, though, Alfandre said he holds the community-centered process dear. That is the case even though not all residents and business owners in the district agree with Kentlands’ desires, he says. The top-down planning approach is something he wants to avoid at all costs. To him, the traditional planning methods have treated struggling areas as blank slates, wiping them out in favor of big-box developments and wiping out history as a result.

“The goal is not to turn the Granary District into something that it’s not, but to turn it into a thriving version of what it already is.”

Granary Row
Opening: Sat, June 15, 11am-11pm Continues every Thurs and Fri,
6pm-11pm and Sat 11am-11pm, through September.
700 South between 3rd and 4th West

This article was originally published on May 29, 2013.