OREM — Orem's SCERA Park is getting a new neighbor — itself.
Though the community park is landlocked on all sides by local neighborhoods and a busy road, the city apparently has hopes to eventually expand park boundaries by preventing homes from being built along its borders.
At a recent Orem City Council meeting, two vacant lots became the expansion's first acquisitions.
The broader intent was stated on the meeting's agenda, making it clear that the move was just the first step in the city's intentions to purchase properties neighboring SCERA Park over a period of time.
"It is anticipated that over many years, the city may acquire the properties bordering the SCERA Park on the east and south," the agenda stated.
While there are no plans at this time to buy existing homes, in this instance the city found it would be "advantageous to acquire the vacant parcels before homes can be constructed there, raising the value of the property at a future date," concluded the agenda statement.
"This property just happened to be on the market, and the property owner was kind enough to sell it to us," said Councilwoman Karen McCandless, noting that is usually cheaper to buy land if there are no buildings involved.
McCandless said the council didn't hesitate to approve the purchase of the vacant lots, which abutted the back yards of neighborhood homes.
Deciding what to do with the land may be more complicated.
While Orem city manager Jim Reams said the vacant lots will eventually be turned into additional park land, there is a rumor circulatingsaying the purchased properties will be used to expand the SCERA theater to accommodate a speculated partnership with Utah Valley State College.
"The rumor is out there, but that's not accurate," Reams said. "No one has the money in their budget to do any of that."
Whether the college joins hands with the theater, it seems possible that the SCERA — which receives generous funding from the city in exchange for providing cultural arts — might someday use the land for a new performing arts center.
In September, SCERA boss Daryl Berlin announced a plan to build a 60,000-square-foot facility adjacent to the current SCERA building.
In order for the proposed $25 million center to be built, homeowners along the north side of 720 South and the west side of 400 East — where the vacant lots are located — would have to pack up and move so SCERA could construct a parking lot.
Some residents believe the purchase decision on the vacant lots was the first step in that process.
"We have no immediate plans to purchase any homes," Reams said. "The money for that is not in this year's budget, it's not in next year's budget and it's not in the foreseeable future."