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State buys Road Home's downtown Salt Lake shelter for $4 million

SALT LAKE CITY — Calling it a "win-win-win" for all partners, homeless leaders announced Tuesday the decision to sell the Road Home's downtown shelter to the state.

Shelter the Homeless, the owner of the Salt Lake shelter that's building three new homeless resource centers to replace the downtown facility, announced the decision Tuesday.

"This is a great occasion," said Harris Simmons, the nonprofit's board president, at a news conference to discuss the deal. "It's another milestone in our progress toward the creation of a new model for serving the homeless population."

Simmons and Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, who is also a member of the nonprofit's board, announced Shelter the Homeless agreed to sell the property to the state for $4 million, the same amount state officials set aside last month for an offer to buy.

At the time, state leaders discussed the possibility of demolishing the building and replacing it with a storage and gallery space for the Utah Department of Heritage and Art's artifact collection. Cox said that is still a possibility, but emphasized no decisions have been made.

After questions arose about whether $4 million would be enough to purchase the facility, recently assessed by the county at $7.7 million, state leaders sought an appraisal of the site.

As state leaders hoped, the appraisal came back with a value of $4.2 million, which Simmons said Shelter the Homeless board members determined was "compatible" with the state's $4 million offer, noting that "we took into account the fact the state is able to provide cash."

"We concluded as the Shelter the Homeless board that this was a fair price," Simmons said.

Asked about how the property's price came under the county's $7.7 million assessed value, Simmons said the appraisal was conducted by a commercial appraiser "who has a lot of experience, and that was the value that was arrived at."

The state and Shelter the Homeless "doesn't have a commercial motive," Simmons added. "This is a very special need and a particularly sensitive time."

Shelter the Homeless plans to use the $4 million to help fund the construction of the new homeless resource centers in Salt Lake City and South Salt Lake underway now.

The Shelter the Homeless board, which usually keeps its meetings open to the public, made the decision to accept the state's offer in a recent closed meeting, Cox said, under the standard that the issue was a real estate transaction.

"We were very excited when the appraisal came back very close to the funds we had approved already," Cox said.

The state law that appropriated millions of dollars for new homeless resource centers meant to replace the troubled downtown shelter — recently the subject of a scathing state audit that found widespread drug use and lax security — requires the shelter to shut down by June 30, 2019.

Cox said last month that "transition" has been one of the things that "keep me awake at night," and pitched the purchase of the property as a way for state leaders to better facilitate the downtown shelter's closure and its ability to move clients into the new homeless resource centers.

There's no exact timeline on when the purchase will be finalized, Cox said, but "hopefully within a month" state leaders "can step in immediately in that role as landlord."

"What we need now over the next eight, nine months as we get close to that is working with the individuals who will be moving from the Road Home and to the new resource centers," Cox said. "That's really going to be our focus."

Pamela Atkinson, a well-known Utah advocate for the homeless, applauded the decision.

"It's a win-win-win" for not only the state, Shelter the Homeless, but also her "homeless friends and the Road Home," she said.

"In this transitional period, it's going to help the Road Home deliver the quality services that our homeless friends need in order to make the transition from going to the shelter and from being on the streets and to the resource centers," Atkinson said.

Atkinson noted the Road Home is more than 30 years old, and its downtown facility hasn't been ideal.

"It's a little dark, and it's crowded at times, and even though they've got a great start, it's not a building that's conducive to healing," she said, adding that the new resource centers are being designed with that in mind. "This is going to make a difference in our homeless friends' lives."

Matt Minkevitch, executive director of the Road Home, welcomed the purchase.

"Quite simply, I couldn't think of a better landlord," he said, applauding the state for having "aligned values to our mission."

"To be working side by side with them while we still have this facility, it will be a productive partnership," he said. "We're very optimistic."

Minkevitch said there are no bittersweet feelings about leaving the downtown facility.

"We want to do more, we want to do better, we want to get people into housing," he said. "We can never do enough, and so we're eyes forward."

Though the Road Home's downtown facility will be no longer, the state's oldest homeless provider still won't be going anywhere. The Road Home is still expected to manage the family homeless shelter in Midvale as part of the new homeless services model.

The Road Home has also applied to be an operator of the new homeless resource centers, although that decision has not yet been made, according to Shelter the Homeless.

"We are eyes forward, we have a lot of services we're providing, and we expect that continuity going forward, and we embrace the innovation," Minkevitch said.