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DEBATE LOOMS OVER FUTURE OF OLD SUGAR HOUSE POST OFFICE

Eddie Simantov and a group of local artists have one thing in common: They both have their hearts set on acquiring an old post office in Sugar House and using it as a gallery.

But the two camps also have one glaring difference: Simantov has the money to buy the old building, and his gallery will be commercial. He already owns Simantov Rug Gallery downtown.The artists' group, which recently incorporated under the name "Sugar House Arts Center," doesn't have money and wants the city to help it get started.

The Salt Lake City Council soon may have to decide between the two - between subsidized art and commercial art.

City officials are close to finalizing a deal to buy the post office from the U.S. Postal Service, using money from federal community block grants. Then the city will ask for bids from anyone who wants to buy or lease the old building.

The building, on Highland Drive just south of 2100 South, is more than just an old post office. City officials see it as a key to the redevelopment of the Sugar House business district. About 52 years old, the building will set the theme and become the focus of the area's revitalization.

But whoever gets it will be required to maintain the building's historic qualities.

Bob Buchanan, the city's special projects manager, said other groups also have shown an interest in the building, including some social-service agencies.

Gary Thorup, chairman of the Sugar House Community Council - a neighborhood group that advises the City Council - said he's heard others talk about putting a neighborhood police substation in the building or using it as a community theater.

But the artists and Simantov appear to have the most serious proposals. Last year, the artists joined forces with students from Hawthorne Elementary School to stop a strip-mall developer from buying the building and turning it into a parking lot.

Linda Curley, president of the Sugar House Arts Center, said the group wants to use the building for public art classes, for exhibits and for lectures.

"We've been working real hard toward this," she said. "But we're worried the council is divided and is afraid it might have to support another nonprofit group."

Curley said the artists want the city to subsidize the building for three or four years - long enough for the group to establish itself and begin making lease payments. In the meantime, Curley said, the artists can fix the place up in lieu of rent.

Last week, city officials said they had offered $250,000 for the building, payable in $50,000 yearly installments. Buchanan said that figure was changing as negotiations progressed. But the money will come from federal grants, and the artists hope the city can use more of its yearly community grant allotment to subsidize their efforts.

Simantov said he would sell bronze statues, artifacts and oriental rugs in the building. He sees the old post office as ideal.

"I love old buildings and antiques. They go with what I want to do a lot better," he said. "I hate new buildings."

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