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SLCC to sell Main center

LDS Church negotiating to buy downtown facility

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Following lower than expected enrollments, Salt Lake Community College's Main Street Learning Center is expected to be sold to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for $5.2 million.

The proposed sale of the 75,000-square-foot center and parcel at 115 S. Main to Property Reserve Inc., the real estate arm of the church, was OK'd Tuesday by the Utah Board of Regents' executive committee. The committee has authority to make binding decisions; the regents will receive a report next month.

The college will receive free rent through the end of the semester, Utah System of Higher Education Commissioner Rich Kendell said. That, plus a no-fee transaction, would bring the sale value to about $5.85 million for the college — "a break-even deal," Kendell said.

The college purchased the center for just under $4.5 million in 2004, following what was described as a costly lease, and subsequently paid $1.16 million for improvements, Kendell said in a memo to regents.

"This is a great, great start in a positive move for Salt Lake Community College," SLCC President Cynthia Bioteau said. She said SLCC will continue its presence downtown, and is seeking a facility to lease for spring classes.

The church acknowledged PRI is negotiating with higher education officials about the possible purchase, but would not say if the sale is related to its downtown redevelopment project.

"Under a proposed purchase agreement, PRI will conduct due diligence over the next 30 days, including consideration of possible future uses for the building," LDS Church spokesman Dale Bills said Tuesday.

The property is adjacent to those owned by the church, and is just south of the ZCMI Center and Crossroads Plaza, which the church has targeted for a massive, mixed-used redevelopment, including retail, restaurants, housing and office units. A final redevelopment plan has not been made public.

A sale of the center could leave another vacancy on Main Street, which Salt Lake City has attempted to revitalize in recent years.

"What this means to me is that we need to roll up our sleeves again and get working on Main Street again" in terms of luring tenants, said Dave Oka, director of the city's redevelopment agency. "I just hope that wherever they (college officials) relocate will still be downtown."

Regents in spring 2001 OK'd SLCC to expand into downtown. SLCC leased the Main street building for only a year before it was deemed unsafe and closed in fall 2003.

The building was purchased in 2004 as part of efforts to get out of a 10-year lease that had risen from $500,000 a year to $650,000 a year, according to Kendell's memo to Regents regarding the proposed sale.

Oka said the city offered SLCC a loan just over $2 million to get into the building a few years ago. The city also offered $20,000 loans to smaller businesses a block down on Main Street.

SLCC wanted the center to provide the downtown area with access to education and envisioned downtown workers taking a class on their lunch hour or before or after work, Bioteau said. It estimated annual center enrollment to hit 3,800 students.

But last year — its best, enrollment-wise — the facility had 1,500 students. While business workers do take classes through the college, they typically do so via the Internet and other means, Bioteau said.

Still, the center is viewed as a "good-faith effort" for the college to serve the downtown area, but in too big of a building, both Kendell and Bioteau said.

"My approach to growing the campus is to grow consistently and carefully as programs grow," Bioteau said. She said the center was oversized for this stage of development.

The college has a partnership in which the Women's Business Center, part of the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, can use the Main Street center, SLCC spokesman Joy Tlou said. "We will have a conversation with them about the future."

Contributing: Kersten Swinyard

E-mail: jtcook@desnews.com