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Improving Gateway roads won’t be easy - or cheap

SHARE Improving Gateway roads won’t be easy - or cheap

Salt Lake officials are very keen to get developers and business types interested in helping revitalize the Gateway area, that run-down segment of town replete with heavy industry, railroad tracks and broken roads.

But in order to do that, they have to, as Councilman Carlton Christensen said, "have some carrots" to offer developers - that is, give them incentives to come in.The most visible carrot, which the council discussed Tuesday: improve roads and other infrastructure. What businessman wants to ply his trade in front of a cracked, rotting strip of asphalt with no curb or sidewalk?

"The Gateway district suffers from severe deferred maintenance, and additional utility capacity is needed," said Stuart Reid, the city's community and economic development director.

As you might guess, bringing the roads up to par isn't going to be cheap. Improving or in some cases completely reconstructing the roads in the Gateway's northern area, from 400 South to North Temple and 400 West to I-15, will cost $17.3 million, according to one of four scenarios being considered.

The cost will be deferred, however, by increased taxes (from more and more profitable businesses coming in), utility and impact fees, federal grants (especially from the Federal Transit Administration for light rail in the area) and Redevelopment Agency property tax increment funding. Most scenarios have the city breaking even by 2007, with tax revenues in the black from then on.

Of top funding priority: 500 West between North Temple and 400 South, which needs to be completely reconstructed. It's in terrible condition, with a high crown, poor drainage, cracking, tracks going along the east side of it that will be removed soon and no curb or gutter along much of it.

Of course, with everything going on on Main Street and 2100 South and other streets, the city has plenty of experience with street reconstruction.

"We know how to rebuild streets and tear them up," said Councilman Keith Christensen. "We know how to do that."

City officials are also talking about burying power lines, removing or shrinking an electrical substation on 500 West, bringing City Creek above ground, extending Rio Grande Street, and other improvements.

The irony for the developers: The carrot will also turn out to be, at least in part, a stick. They themselves will pay for much of the improvement directly through impact fees and connection fees, as well as general taxes once they're up and running.

How much to charge in impact fees is a point of debate among the council. The proposed scenarios take into account only modest impact fees, but Councilman Roger Thompson, for one, sees nothing wrong with sticking the developers for as much as the law allows. In fast-growing cities like Phoenix, Las Vegas and Denver, he says, the burden of the expansion is not being borne by taxpayers but by developers.

But Redevelopment Agency Director Alice Steiner said the city shouldn't be over-anxious to institute more impact fees. For one thing, this is redevelopment in a mature community, not development in a booming city like, say, South Jordan. One result of impact fees, often intended, is to cool down development by discouraging developers by the high cost. With the Gateway, Steiner says, the city wants to do the opposite.

But all those questions will be decided later. Council members Tom Rogan, Deeda Seed and Joanne Milner, especially, have said they are disturbed that the city is moving forward with such things as deciding on the placement of an intermodal transportation hub, I-15 on- and offramps and light rail routes without yet having a Gateway master plan in place, and Tuesday Rogan put his foot down: no decisions on infrastructure improvement until the master plan is adopted.

That will probably happen some time in August or September. A public hearing on the proposed plan is scheduled for Aug. 11.