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Rescue in sight for Murray stacks?
Couple offers to fix up chimneys if given the site

MURRAY -- Bill and Susan Wright, the owners of the 100-year-old Murray Mansion, say they are willing to restore the historic smokestacks if the owners will give the stacks to them.

This gives new hope to preservationists that the historic 456-foot high smokestack, along with its shorter, 295-foot neighboring stack, won't be demolished.But it's up to the developers, Boyer Co. and Johansen-Thackery, whether they want the landmarks to be part of their billion-dollar business, a retail center on the 141-acre American Smelter and Refining Co. site.

"We're trying to meet with them," said Susan Wright. "It's not a battle against us and developers. We'd love nothing more than to work with them. I can guarantee them saving the stacks will bring people to the development."

Duaine Rassmussen of Chimney Ridge Associates is willing to discuss the proposal. But he's cautious.

"It's fraught with complications," Rassmussen said. Having the Wrights own the stacks is one thing, he added, but the biggest problem is the stability and ongoing maintenance.

The smokestacks' owners -- Otto Buehner & Co. and Hi-Ute Investment Co. -- have given the developers first option to the smokestacks, according to Wright.

Hi-Ute Investment's attorney did not return a call for comment by press deadline Friday.

Centrally located at 5300 South, the giant smokestack is the tallest man-made structure in Salt Lake Valley, and both of the stacks have been landmarks for more than 80 years.

The plan to demolish the two stacks to make way for the development has generated heated debate for about three years. Currently, the U.S.

Environmental Protection Agency is overseeing the cleanup of toxic slag left behind from decades of mining operations on the old smelter site.

Murray residents last year voted against increasing taxes to pay for preserving the stacks, leaving their fate in the hands of private developers.

Nobody, until now, has offered to restore them.

It was a visit to her sick mother at LDS Hospital two months ago that prompted Susan Wright and her husband to save the stacks.

"I looked out the window of the seventh floor and when I saw my smokestacks, it gave me a warm feeling," she said. "They are such a strong part of Murray's history."

The Wrights say they can't pay for the restoration alone.

It would take about $3.5 million to restore both stacks. But the couple hopes to tap into money generated from a redevelopment area to help finance it. Once a redevelopment is created, the taxes from increased property values could be used to help upgrade the property and build infrastructure. Just what the money will be used for will be discussed by the Redevelopment Agency Board on July 13.

It may not be so surprising that the Wrights have stepped up to save the stacks. The couple has a history of saving old buildings from the wrecking ball.

"People see the value of old buildings," Susan Wright said. "The people who love them the most are the little kids."

If successful in restoring the stacks, the Wrights want to build a museum on the site. The smokestacks, Wright said, will draw children eager to learn about the history.

People will know about Murray, too.

"Murray," said Wright, "will be painted on the top and bottom of the stacks."