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Utah Business

These once forgotten cities are using redevelopment and other commercial real estate endeavors to transform into economic powerhouses.

These once-forgotten cities are redeveloping into economic powerhouses

Municipality-wise, Utah has been a story of the haves and have-nots. Cities like Lehi, Sandy and Draper have ridden the economic boom while others like Kearns have lagged behind. Brandon Fugal, chairman at Colliers Utah, thinks it’s time for a reconciliation. According to him, previously overlooked municipalities are “rising to the occasion as they announce dynamic projects in opportunity zones.” 

Fugal says that Utah cities are “rebranding to differentiate,”  as they recognize the need to revitalize their image. If certain regions are seen as less than economically vibrant, the new thinking goes that they just need to change public (and investor) perception. 

Three cities — and their respective projects — illustrate how aggressive development initiatives can help change public perception. West Valley City, Midvale and Vineyard have hardly been economic wonders over the past few decades, but Fugal thinks that’s about to change. 

West Valley City 

Often seen as Salt Lake City’s lost relative, West Valley City is an economic powerhouse in its own right. It’s Utah’s second-largest city and, as of late, has been “experiencing a transformation,” says Fugal. The development of the Soleil Technology Park in the coming year will only accelerate this transformation. 

Funded by Wasatch Properties, Soleil Technology Park will include five office buildings that total 525,000 square feet of office space, and it will “dramatically change the skyline” of Salt Lake Valley’s West Side. 

The Soleil development is also entirely speculative at its inception. “No other development in Utah history has broken ground on more speculative office space at once,” says Fugal. Soleil developers and backers are banking on emerging economic demand to fill the space. In a sense, the Soleil development itself can help start the flywheel of economic upswing. However, as developers around the world have learned — and continue to learn on a regular basis —  the “build it and they will come,” mentality only goes so far. 

Fortunately, the recent trajectory paints a positive picture for the future of West Valley. And Soleil is not the first major West Valley rebranding project. Fairbourne Station just reached completion after over half a decade of planning and development. Fairbourne Station features a nine-story office building and civic center that includes an updated suburban mall, a large public plaza, TRAX light rail, a new eight-story Embassy Suites hotel and a large four-story multi-family building. A six-story parking structure supports all of that while allowing for density. 

Midvale 

Smack in the center of the Salt Lake Valley, Midvale has the dubious distinction of hosting not one, but two Superfund sites: the Midvale Tailings cleanup and the Midvale Slag project. Both sites were contaminated by early-to-mid 20th century heavy industry. The EPA removed the former from its Superfund National Priorities List in 2004, per the EPA Superfund site. 

Midvale is, indeed, in need of an image refresher. The municipality is rising from the ashes with a massive development on the former Midvale Tailings site. 

View 72, as the development is known, is “one of the largest office centers in the Intermountain West,” says Fugal. With tenants such as Overstock and CHG Healthcare occupying its 1.5 million square feet of Class A office space, View 72 spans 212 acres and includes 1,800 residential apartment units, a hotel and service retail all between 700 and 1000 West on 7200 South. 

And that’s just Phase One. Phase 2 — View 78 — will bring an additional 1.5 million square feet of space, creating even more market momentum and further propelling Midvale into a prominent position in the state and regional economy. View 78 aims for a 100 percent power offset via rooftop solar and includes plans to create a one-mile park with an “abundance of green open space” as well as walking trails, pavilions and sports courts. There will even be connectivity to the Jordan River Trail, Historic Gardner transit station and a food truck park. 

From a literal “slag heap” to a green economic powerhouse, developments like these go a long way in allowing the city to rebrand itself. 

Vineyard 

The Geneva Steel Mill operated in Vineyard, Utah, from 1944 to 2001. Initially part of the U.S. government war effort, it was acquired by U.S. Steel after WWII ended. The massive plant gained infamy in the late 20th century when, allegedly, its airborne emissions doubled cases of respiratory cancer in Utah County. 

Now practically an Orem suburb, Vineyard hugs Utah Lake’s eastern shore and aims to “become the place to live, work and play in Utah County,” says Fugal. Its vehicle for transformation? A 45-acre development that “will feature over one million square feet of space in addition to residential and retail uses.” 

Appropriately dubbed “The Forge at Geneva,” the development will have “an eclectic blend of architecture,” as well as an IMAX Megaplex theater, tons of places to walk around on pedestrian-friendly bike paths and other such niceties. 

“Street-side buildings will offer spaces that spill onto inviting plazas,” Fugal explains, adding that three freeway exits (the site is close to I-15) and UTA Frontrunner proximity will accelerate adoption and popular usage of The Forge at Geneva. Fugal thinks that The Forge “will undoubtedly redefine mixed-use development in Utah County.” 

Finding an image 

As corporations have long known, branding is everything. But how far does that carry over into municipal economic matters? A company, after all, often has its brand as its main or only differentiator: Coke and Pepsi, Nike and Reebok, Burger King and McDonald’s aren’t really all that different from each other. In such cases, the brand is everything. 

Cities, by their very nature, are already differentiated. First by geography, then by population, history and other factors. Public perception, of course, still matters — as does the perception of investors, politicians, agencies and others who have the power to effect change. 

People’s perception of a place improves as the place improves — or as they see the possibility of such improvement on the horizon — which fuels more interest and investment and so forth in a virtuous cycle. 

With or without environmental factors, economic malaise has causes that, if properly understood, can be allayed with buy-in from the right stakeholders. Usually state, municipal and (as in the case of Superfund sites) federal agencies and departments all have a stake in the operation. Private equity often contributes. And then there’s the actual economic activity — the stores, offices or other occupants — that need to fill the void and generate a tax base. 

In other words, cooperation between all of these parties is crucial, usually on a massive level across diverse players. Such cooperation requires vision, foresight and commitment. It requires economic incentives, sufficient resources and leadership. 

Fugal claims that Utah leads the entire U.S. in its public-private sector cooperation, “with many municipal leaders working collaboratively with developers and companies” to revitalize less-glamorous corners of the Utah landscape. Previously left in the dust, these municipalities “are re-positioning as key growth markets, prime for redevelopment in an increasingly competitive market,” says Fugal. “Cities that embrace innovative thinking, redevelopment, and opportunity zone developments will lead the next wave of economic development.” 

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Jacob Andra is a writer, award-winning digital marketer, and technologist living in Salt Lake City. Specialties include account-based marketing, growth hacking for startups, blockchain, fintech, and international issues. He enjoys history, the outdoors, podcasts, and a good book. https://about.me/jacobandra