Sugar House Hole Filled-- What Comes Next?
March 3rd, 2009
What will be coming to the Sugar House Granite Block now that funding is gone and the economy is spiraling downward? Find out from Utah Stories
By Rebecca Edwards and Richard Markosian
The Sugar House Granite Block story is in a word--depressing. As a Sugar House resident I've been hoping for a positive development amid all of the bad economic news. In the end I was cheered up by Omar--the local new-age awareness, happy raw foods guy-- which I'll get to later in the story.
Speaking with merchants yesterday I found many who are upset that all is gone and now there are no immediate plans for future development.
Perhaps it's cathartic to have a scapegoat in this story: Sugar House residents enjoy venting their anger towards the developer who tore down the buildings, for his apparent mismanagement. Craig Mecham demolished when the economy was still ok. But when the real-estate market began to show signs that it could not support high-end retail or luxury condos as Mecham had planed-- financiers backed out and Mecham was left with an empty hole with no money to build.The Sugar House Granite Block story is, in a word--depressing. As a Sugar House resident I've been hoping for a positive development amid all of the bad economic news. In the end I was cheered up by Omar--the local, new-age awareness, always smiling, raw foods guy-- which I'll get to later in the story.
Getting opinions from merchants, I started on the northside of Sugar House and asked long-time Soup Kitchen Manager Shauna Deboe her thoughts regarding the Granite Block. "It's terrible," she stated.
Deboe says The Soup Kitchen has consistently brought in about $200 less per day than they did before the buildings were demolished. But she concedes that the economy is likely partly to blame. Deboe says she would like to see a Farmer's Market in the empty area along with a nice place for people to come and hang out.
I walked into Omar's shop and as usual he was happily working up new concoctions for nut burgers and organic vegan drinks. Omar Abou-Ismail, owner of Omar's Living Cuisine, says all the blame and anger towards Mecham is misplaced:
"We need to not accuse the landlord and not blame him, but pray that something good happens. He is doing his best to make something better happen in the area," Omar said. "We need to send positive vibrations."
Omar has a plan for the empty lot--"throw native wildflower seeds, then offer a prayer." Omar encourages everyone to be positive and look at what is happening as an opportunity for a new beginning.
I asked Omar if his business is affected by the loss of retail activity "Of course we are affected, but what are we going to do? I accept it and I hope that the universe brings us a lot of joy and laughter." After our previous story on Omar and his kind words towards Mecham, Omar told me that Mecham came up to his shop and gave him a hug.
I thought I would run these ideas by Craig Mecham and see what he thinks. Mecham was in his office. The Sugar House development plans that had adorned his walls on previous visits were gone; just the old photograph showing what Sugar House used to offer when the Piggly Wiggly grocery story was the biggest retailer on the block. Mecham was welcoming as he had always been. I first asked Meecham what he thinks of Omar's idea to plant wildflower seeds. "That would be fine but the city wouldn't allow it. The City mandates that I spread mulch over the lot, which I will soon comply with."
I then asked Mecham about the idea of offering a weekend Farmers Market on the lot. "My concerns are with insurance. I'm not saying I wouldn't want to do that but but the liability of having a farmers market on such uneven ground would be difficult. What if someone were to twist their ankle?"
Mecham is a very practical man. We discussed the economy and the project further. Mecham says that his other properties on 1300 South currently have vacancies and just a few months ago they were completely full. Mecham added that he has had many offers from people to finance his project or alternative projects. "But honestly, if someone were to offer me all of the money to build what we had planned I still wouldn't do it," he shared. "It's not a good time to be building right now. The economic outlook is just too uncertain and scary."
So for now, unless the city allows Mecham to plant wildflowers as Omar envisions--native wildflowers might work well considering the fill dirt has come from Red Butte Gardens--nothing more will be planted and the red dirt will be covered with tree bark mulch.
Contact Sugar House City Council Member Soren Simonson if you would prefer to see wildflowers or an open-air market; maybe Simonson could allow Mecham to plant flowers or resolve the liability issues.
Utah Stories will update this story with comments from City Council Representative Soren Simonson
What business does Omar own? I would love to support him! And after reading this article see I have been too hard on Craig Mecham. Sorry, Craig. And best of luck to you. I still live in and love Sugarhouse.
Omar is the Owner of Omar's Living Cuisine it is located on Highland Drive 2148 South. (on the West side of Highland Dr.) We profiled Omar and his restaurant in a previous story Please do patronize his excellent restaurant.
I live blocks away from this bland, gaping area. I think a garden would make it an oasis rather than an eyesore. We have fewer and fewer open spaces to enjoy. Why not make lemonade out of the lemons we're experiencing during this economic downturn? If the community were allowed to get together and plant with their own produce - a community garden might provide food and beauty in an otherwise urban setting. Those who want to volunteer their time will benefit with the produce and any leftovers can be donated to local families in need.