The most recent owners of the long-vacant Sears shop in downtown Salt Lake City and the adjacent block plan to demolish the structure. In December, Intermountain Healthcare acquired the renowned building at 754 S. State St. as well as nine surrounding acres. The medical system then requested three months ago at City Hall to demolish the vacant, 75-year-old, faded beige department store and the adjacent former auto repair business.
The Salt Lake City-based nonprofit organization hasn’t yet made public its plans for the significant downtown location and its big parking lot, which is now walled off and utilized for various types of storage. This Thursday, Intermountain’s spokesperson Jess Gomez said the company had purchased the land “for future use to expand health care services available to region residents,” but he made no further comments.
The Salt Lake Tribune was informed by several people who are aware of the plans but are not authorized to speak publicly about them that the health system hopes to demolish the aging LDS Hospital in the Avenues and build a replacement medical center around that roomy intersection of State Street and 800 South. Gomez chose not to directly address this possibility.
Although sources claimed Intermountain might soon announce the changes, if true, that could take years. But as of last week, Intermountain was still “developing and evaluating our ideas for the property but has not finalized those plans as of yet,” according to Gomez.
In a brief comment in response to inquiries regarding a new hospital, he stated, “We’d be pleased to discuss those whenever we have more detailed information.” As new construction rises all around it, property records reveal that one of its companies, IHC Healthcare Services, now controls 8.95 contiguous acres on that strategically positioned but vacant Sears block. The assessed value of the lots as a whole is around $14.8 million.
The city hasn’t yet granted Intermountain’s May 4 request to demolish the 1947-built and 2018-closed old Sears store, but it is now progressing through City Hall after first being held up by a lack of essential paperwork. LDS Hospital CEO and Administrator Health Wall stated that the Sears location “offers quick access to all we serve throughout the Salt Lake Valley, patients from other parts of Utah, and patients from other states” in an email that was made public in December.
Map of the area
Intermountain Healthcare is a privately held nonprofit organization and the biggest healthcare provider in the Intermountain West. It joined with SCL Health, a Colorado-based hospital system, in April and is now the parent business for a network of 33 hospitals and over 385 clinics largely located throughout Utah, Idaho, Nevada, Montana, Colorado, and Kansas.
Intermountain and SCL Health officials acknowledged in their disclosures to the Colorado attorney general, who evaluated the merger, that they had “no intention to move, close, or consolidate any existing clinical sites as a result of the merger.” According to records, Intermountain-owned companies also hold significant portions of the six blocks in the Avenues beneath and around the LDS Hospital, which is located at 380 North C Street. These six blocks include a parking garage, several residential complexes, and medical buildings.
The Avenues site would probably be a desirable prospect for residential and mixed-use construction if the hospital and neighboring buildings were to be demolished and the area made available for development, given the city’s strong demand for housing and lack of available land. Its neighborhood property is largely zoned for institutional uses, allowing for many structures in a campus-like setting that is compatible with neighboring structures.
Despite being close to a number of downtown attractions, such as a new TRAX station, the Sears site may create challenges for the construction of a complete replacement for LDS Hospital, which completed its current facility in 1984 on the site of an earlier hospital constructed in 1905. Intermountain officials have asked the city if hospitals are allowed land use under the Sears property’s present zoning, known as D-2, according to City Planning Director Nick Norris. They are not, according to Norris.
He said that altering that would necessitate amending the city code, but “no official information has been provided.” The city’s current D-2 zoning is intended to “promote the development of a healthy urban area that allows commercial, office, residential, and other uses that relate to and support the central business district,” according to city regulations. Buildings can occupy more space and be placed closer to the sidewalk on land with the D-2 designation because development there is intended to be less dense than elsewhere in the urban center.
A crucial element of the scenery in the city
After Salt Lake City-based Colmena Group and Kimball Investment Co. dropped plans for a multiphased project at the location that included an initial 11-story skyscraper with up to 360 dwelling units, facing State Street and 800 South, the possibility of new construction on the Sears block emerges. The initial phase of the Copper Yards project, tentatively known as The Jetty, was supposed to be a part of a bigger commercial and residential development.
However, delays in obtaining zoning concessions on building height and other characteristics during the city’s design review caused the project to fail. Dallas-based real estate agents revealed last week that the Salt Lake City-based Lee Development Group had paid $3 million for a vacant, half-acre parcel with a 22,874 square foot warehouse and office facility that is directly north of the Sears site. Brokers at SRS Real Estate Partners stated that Lee intends to redevelop that property but “does not have official details to release at this time.”
The open baseball field, allegedly played by a team called the Salt Lake Skyscrapers, was where the flat, rectangular Sears store was constructed in 1947. It closed in January 2018 as part of a wave of closures that included 18 Sears and 45 Kmart stores that the chain’s parent company, Sears Holdings, deemed unprofitable. The company filed for bankruptcy the following October.
It reflects the chain’s architectural taste at the time, which was midcentury modernism. At the time, Derek Kitchen, a current Salt Lake City Council member, and others suggested that the Sears site be refurbished to better match that location, referring to it as “a large building in a sea of parking.” Furthermore, it can make sense to destroy the building now rather than waiting until future plans are set in stone.
It is open to trespassing, and in recent months, homeless encampments have gathered along the site’s perimeter. Now in the parking lot are remote police surveillance units. A 43-year-old woman was detained by police in November after it was claimed that she set fire to a piece of the building, leaving its boarded-up doors ablaze in flames when cops arrived.
Gomez explained in an email that the primary reason for demolishing the structure before winter was for safety reasons because “the building itself is very deteriorated.” All except a few of the lots on the northeast corner of the Sears block, which are occupied by the restaurant Sapa, the bar Purgatory, and the retail store Retrospect Water & Light, are owned by Intermountain Healthcare subsidiary. On nearby walkways, taco booths conduct a booming business.
Intermountain officials have talked about “pulling down everything on the south side of that block” as part of their proposal, according to Stefani James, special projects assistant with the city’s Department of Community and Neighborhoods. On a portion of the main six-acre parcel on the south half of the block, between 700 South and 800 South between Main and State Streets, are both the abandoned Sears store and the L-shaped Sears Auto Shop that is closer to Main Street.
In the interim, no development plans for the block have been submitted to the city’s building services, according to James. Before Intermountain may be granted permission to demolish the structures, the city does not require a reuse plan; nevertheless, the corporation must specify the property’s intended use, and as of last week, according to Norris, it hadn’t done so.