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MAGNA SHOWING SIGNS OF NEW LIFE

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Long a sleepy little community snuggled up against the Oquirrh Mountains, Magna may be waking up as leaders pump money and new ideas into the place.

Howard Stahle, publisher of the Magna Times and president of the Magna Tourism and Economic Development committee, says he sees a marked change in the unincorporated community since he returned to head the weekly paper in 1985."The morale has changed dramatically. When I came back to Magna in 1985, it seemed you could count the cars on the street. Now in the afternoon the streets have a lot traffic," Stahle said.

Fueled by attention from county leaders and a community development group, Magna is hoping to capitalize on its mining heritage and attract tourists to a historic downtown. Stahle envisions Magna as a "mini Park City" stop on a bus tour route that would link the Kennecott Copper mine, Saltair beach and eventually Antelope Island.

However, he readily admits that there aren't the kinds of businesses that are needed for such a tourist stop. While many storefronts have been repaired, many other businesses in the historic area remain vacant.

"It's a diamond in the rough," said Mike Zuhl, consultant for the economic development committee, who explains Magna's future in terms of other "Old West" mining towns such as Durango, Colo.

Stahle and Zuhl list several funded and proposed projects that they hope will help kick-start Magna's local economy.

Already the Salt Lake County Commission, acting as the county redevelopment agency board, has approved a $490,000 tax incentive for computermaker Packard Bell to help finish moving its technical-support operation to the area.

The commissioners also gave a $600,000 loan to the company that owns Arbor Park Shopping Center, where Packard Bell relocated. The company employs nearly 300 Utahns but expects to double in size by the end of 1994. The company projects that a "significant number" will be employed in 12 years, according to John Hlavac, Packard Bell vice president of international service and support.

Zuhl hopes Packard Bell's move will attract other employers to the area. Stahle says the Packard Bell expansion has already been a shot in the arm to the economy.

"Banks are getting new accounts, and it is helping the real estate market. Two and half years ago, there were 300 homes vacant. Now most are sold. There is new development of bigger, more expensive homes," Stahle said.

The county also recently opened an Olympic-size swimming pool in the community.

On Magna's Main Street, alias 2700 South, the county has already made investments in another redevelopment area to improve the facade of local businesses. The county also approved a $10,000 community development block grant to help open what is being called the Utah Ethnic and Mining Museum.

The museum, planned for the former J.C. Penney store, will exhibit artifacts from Kennecott mining operations along with emphasis on people of Greek, Italian and Mexican heritage who helped settle the community.

Stahle said the building will be open during the community's Fourth of July celebration to help generate interest in the project.

Some have suggested that all of the county money spent in Magna amounts to political pork. Two of the county commissioners are Democrats, and Magna has generally voted for Democratic candidates. Zuhl, a longtime Democratic operative, said it's not pork but simply "catch-up" after years of neglect by earlier county administrations.

Magna holds dreams for many. For example, Leo Ware, a 71-year-old engineer and actor, has been working for more than a decade to almost single-handedly renovate the Empress Theater on historic Main Street. Standing amid newlypoured concrete platforms inside the hollow shell of the former movie showplace, he talks about staging live theater productions in the round or showing a short movie for tourists. The theater would seat an audience of 230.

Among other plans, leaders also hope to place three railroad cabooses, another donation from Kennecott, around the community for use as tourist information centers. Another plan calls for small public parks along Main Street.

Stahle believes it's only a matter of time before Magna is remade. "Someday, someone will come along who will help us," Stahle said.