LDS Church to turn Triad into an education center

Purchase finalized; still no news on mall renovations

Deseret Morning News/June 23, 2004
By Tom Smart

The LDS Church announced it would finalize the purchase of the Triad Center block today to house the "education component" of its downtown redevelopment project.

The LDS Church's deal includes the Devereaux House, front, three Triad office buildings, two parking structures and some land.

Meanwhile, a church official said Tuesday there was nothing new to report on the remaining components - including the much-anticipated downtown mall renovation - but that "work continues" in the planning stages of the project.

The Triad Center purchase, announced Tuesday at the Devereaux House, which is part of the Triad campus, includes the three Triad Center office buildings, which will be renovated and refitted to house the LDS Business College and the Salt Lake extension campus of Brigham Young University. The church bought the property from M&S Triad Center, a California real estate investment trust.

In addition to the office complex, the deal includes two parking structures and the transfer of long-term subleases from the state for about three acres of property that includes the Devereaux House and Carriage Cafe. In total, the purchase includes about 10 acres of property and land. The financial terms were not disclosed.

H. David Burton, presiding bishop of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said Tuesday that using existing buildings will allow the church to proceed immediately with the education portion of its redevelopment project. Burton predicted that the design phase will be completed later this year, with renovation beginning in 2005 for a 2006 completion target.

When Burton unveiled the church's plans last October for the downtown mall renovation, the site for the education campus was thought to be Block 85 - the downtown city block just east of the Triad Center, which was used as the medals plaza during the 2002 Olympic Winter Games.

Purchasing existing buildings, rather than building new ones, will be cost-effective for the church, Burton said. It also provides and preserves flexibility for the church in how it wants to use Block 85, as well as the rest of the Triad Center block.

About 5,000 students are expected to attend the two schools initially. The church has no immediate plans for the current LDS Business College site on South Temple.

The church's purchase did not include the building that houses KSL-TV and KSL Newsradio 1160, which are owned by Bonneville International Corp., a church-affiliated business. It also did not include a surface parking lot on the southwest corner of 400 West and South Temple, which is owned by Property Reserve Inc., the church's commercial real estate arm.

While the education component of the church's downtown plan leaped ahead, the retail and residential portion - including the renovation of the two Main Street malls - remains unchanged. Burton said Tuesday that he understands that "there is much anticipation in the community for what the church will do with the property that it owns and controls along South Temple and Main Street." But, he said, there is no new information available.

"The work continues aggressively on that part of the church's plan," Burton said. "We agree . . . that this whole downtown development is absolutely critical for the social and economic development of the city center. At a future date, we will be prepared to talk more about the retail and residential component.

"We don't feel we can rush this critical planning stage," he said. "Both the church and those charged with the task of overseeing and administering the city on behalf of all of its citizens must be convinced that we've found the right way to go forward."

Burton dismissed recent grumbling regarding the possible "Vaticanization" by the church in downtown Salt Lake - rumbles that increased following the church's purchase of Crossroads Plaza shopping center, the Old Navy building on 100 South and Main Street and its interest in the Triad Center.

"Salt Lake City is the world headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We have a peculiar and long-standing history here," he said, calling the redevelopment project "a harmonious redevelopment of downtown that will benefit all of the citizenry, regardless of their faith."

The church doesn't expect to buy more property downtown in the near term, though Burton said that "from time to time there may be circumstances that would dictate that we protect the interests of the church or we assist in some way in the revitalization of the downtown community."

Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson met with Burton on Tuesday and called the Triad Center deal "a very positive development."

"The Triad Center was about 25 percent vacant," Anderson said. "This will bring life and activity to the city. With an opening academic year of 2006, we're looking forward to a much more active use of that area of our city much sooner, including more people living in and near downtown."

As for the mall projects, Anderson said, "I think everyone, including those who have been working on behalf of the LDS Church, wish that we had more certainty and that things were moving along more rapidly."

When asked whether he was concerned about the church's property-buying activity of late, Anderson said he sees "only good things coming from the massive investment by the LDS Church" on the two malls.

But, he said, "I want to encourage everyone, including the City Council and the Legislature, to take a look at some of the legal restrictions that apply throughout our downtown area and take reasonable measures to permit a wide range of choices for all the people who live in this area and visit our city."

Dave Buhler, Salt Lake City councilman and associate commissioner of public affairs for the Utah System of Higher Education, called the Vaticanization claims "bogus."

"This is a diverse city, and there's a diversity of property owners," Buhler said. "That's the way we want it, and that's the way it will continue to be, and it will only get more diverse over time. I think whenever anyone is willing to make a substantial investment in our downtown, we should welcome that."

The Triad Center deal also may serve to link Main Street with The Gateway, Buhler said, by drawing an anticipated 5,000 students downtown every day.

"One of the concerns we had for the last few years is how do we connect The Gateway to Main Street, and with the redevelopment of the Main Street malls, would that be a source of competition that would put The Gateway under?" Buhler said. "We want both parts of downtown to succeed. I think putting several thousand college students at the steps of Gateway will be very beneficial to them, and good for downtown also."

City Council Chairman Carlton Christensen said though he "hated to see it leave the tax rolls, there's clearly other properties that will increase in value because of it. I think that some of the surrounding properties will benefit from having 5,000 students here. So I think that helps solidify this portion of downtown, and in time will help close the link between downtown and here."

Church officials will meet with existing Triad Center tenants today to outline the renovation plans and answer questions. Burton said he hopes most of the tenants will choose to stay.

"There's about 500,000 square feet of space" available at the Triad Center, he said, which won't all be filled by the education campus - at least not at first.

Existing tenants, including Strong & Hanni Law Firm and Equitable Life & Casualty Insurance Co., declined to comment until after the church makes its presentation.

Eventually, Burton said, all of the commercial real estate space will go off the market. Wesley Tab Cornelison of Prime Commercial Inc. said if the church goes forward with that plan, it "will change the downtown Class A vacancy rate from 20.1 percent to 13.2 percent."

"That's big news," Cornelison said. "If you're Boyer and you own The Gateway, I think you're going to like it, because it puts more bodies at your front doorstep. If you're a tenant, like a law firm at the Triad Center, you might not want your corporate offices on a college campus. If you're an insurance agent, maybe you like it. Who knows? It depends on where you're sitting and from what viewpoint. But it will change the climate of this vicinity, immediately."

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