Nine years from the initial groundbreaking, an $18 million development project will begin immediately at Block 49 with the construction of housing units, a hotel and a health club, Salt Lake Mayor Deedee Corradini said Friday.

"Today is one of the happiest and most significant days of my administration," Corradini said at a press conference held on the future development site. "These blocks symbolize a blight and eyesore of the downtown area. It has been touch and go every step of the way. Finally, we got all of the pieces together at one time, and we are ready to go now."Plans to upgrade Block 49, bordered by 300 South and 400 South, and 200 West and 300 West, have been plagued since 1981. Financial problems and bureaucratic roadblocks have stalled the development of the run-down area.

Project plans entail four phases, Corradini said. Phase I of the project, which includes the construction of 96 housing units, will begin next week. Thirty-six of those units will be used for low-income housing.

A Marriott Residence Inn will be phase II of the plan. The existing structure, an unfinished apartment complex on 300 West, will be used in the construction of the hotel, Corradini said.

A health club, phase III, also will be built, and the final phase will include 172 more housing units.

"Low income housing is something this community feels strongly about, so we put that in the mix," she said.

The city's Redevelopment Agency bought the block from the bankruptcy court in December 1990. During 1991, the RDA completed environmental and community-based planning studies. Three years were spent remediating materials discovered on the site by environmental engineers. That work is nearing completion.

Renaissance Associates began working with the RDA to purchase the site in July 1993, said Ken Holman, president of Overland Development Corp., parent company of Renaissance Associates.

Zions Bank assisted with the financing for construction for the low-income housing units.

"This block is what redevelopment is all about," said Keith Christensen, chairman of the RDA Board. "This is exactly what SLC is looking for to take place with redevelopment."

The project will be a "commercial buffer" in the city's push to clean up the Rio Grande neighborhood, the mayor said.

"We are committed to keeping Pioneer Park clean. This is the best thing we can do to keep Pioneer Park clean," Corradini said.

"This is a wonderful, exciting day with the district," said City Councilman Paul Hutchison. "Block 49 has been a thorn in our side for many years. This will be an improvement to Salt Lake City."

Contracts for the project were signed Thursday, Corradini said.