Salt Lake City looks for lift from downtown condos

Is there a market here for high-rise living?

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Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Feb. 11, 2011

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Is there a market here for high-rise living?

Steve Bergsman
Inman News™

New York's famed Rockefeller Center was constructed during the heart of the Depression, with the ceremonial final rivet being put into place on Nov. 1, 1939. The expansive project, on 22 acres in the center of the Big Apple, was completely driven by the fortune of John D. Rockefeller Jr.

In downtown Salt Lake City, City Creek, a 23-acre mixed-use development featuring condominiums, retail and restaurants, has been under construction since the start of the current recession. This expansive project is completely driven by the treasury of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, better known as the Mormon Church.

In New York, Rockefeller Center to this day remains a major tourist attraction. City Creek, being constructed in the shadow of Temple Square, expects the retail mall, managed by Taubman Centers Inc. of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., to be a major part of the tourist scene around the square. It is already unique, being the only regional shopping center actively in development in the country.

"The LDS church wanted to preserve the corridor around Temple Square," said Dave Anderton, communications director of the Salt Lake Board of Realtors. "There were some indoor shopping centers built in the 1970s that had gone out of favor and (were) losing tenants. The church decided it would be proactive, reinvent the area and bring people back to downtown."

What attracted my attention was not the mall but the massive commitment the project made to residential living. City Creek is one of the few high-rise condo projects actively in development in the U.S.

According to Anderton, 425 residential units are being built at City Creek in the 30-story Promontory tower, the 20-story Regent tower and the smaller Richards Court mid-rises.

I had gone to graduate school in Salt Lake City at the University of Utah, and I've always kept an interest in the city; it just never struck me as being an urban living type of place.

Things have changed since I lived there, Celeste Council, a real estate agent for Urban Utah Homes & Estates in the Salt Lake City, told me in a tone that insinuated I'd been negligent in neglecting the city for so long.

Back in the 1980s, a couple of residential towers were erected in the downtown area, but the real movement occurred this past decade with a lot of old warehouses being converted into loft-style condominiums.

"There were about 2,000 to 3,000 condo units in downtown before City Creek," she said. "There is definitely an urban core to Salt Lake City and a lot of professional types are drawn to the downtown area. 2005 and 2006 were huge years for the SLC condo market."

The only condos I was aware of were those at the ski resorts in the Wasatch Mountains to the east of the city. I guess it has been decades since I visited Salt Lake City.

Council concedes Salt Lake City was more known for its sprawl than vertical construction, but as she points out, because of the geographic limitations, with mountains to the east and west, there is only so much land that can be absorbed for suburban developments. Council, who is a supporter of all things urban, said, "They call this project 'downtown rising,' and it's fantastic to see."

Great. So I ask: Have you sold many condo units?

Uh, she stammered, "No."

"Well, what's up," I asked.

"I have had buyers that have been interested, but they have been turned away by the price," she answered with frankness.

The median price for condos in Salt Lake City is in the $150,000 to $160,000 range, explained Anderton, but City Creek units were originally put on the market for $200,000 to $2.5 million.

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