Salt Lake seeks home run plan to revitalize 'overlooked' Ballpark neighborhood
After Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall finished unveiling a plan to revitalize the city's Ballpark neighborhood, she slowly retreated to a tent set up by a local vendor where she grabbed a drink called a "spa water."
"It has club soda, berries, lemon and lime, and it's very refreshing on this November day," she says, smiling as she stares down at her cup. This drink, which she got from a pop-up street festival set up at Smith's Ballpark, in a way symbolizes what she envisions for this neighborhood in years to come.
Mendenhall on Monday unveiled a draft of the city's "Ballpark Station Area Plan," which among other things, calls for a "festival street" — a place near Smith's Ballpark where residents and local businesses in the neighborhood can hold public markets, festivals and other events that drive interest to the south-central part of the city. The pop-up festival was just a "glimpse" of what the city has in mind, the mayor explained.
The plan also calls for a new city library branch to be built in the neighborhood and a reconfiguration of Utah Transit Authority's TRAX station at 1300 South to make it more accessible. In addition, it calls for efforts to make the area more walkable and to find new uses for Smith's Ballpark on nongame days.
Salt Lake City leaders and neighborhood advocates are hopeful that the plan will be a home run for the neighborhood that has struggled with crime and other issues in recent years. They want the game-day atmosphere from the summer to exist year-round outside of the ballpark.
"This plan lays out what is an ambitious vision for the future of the Ballpark neighborhood," Mendenhall said. "I believe this plan includes any of the key elements we need to move the Ballpark neighborhood forward and help it reach its full potential for generations to come."
Inside the park plan
There are six "big moves" in the plan unveiled Monday, according to Mendenhall:
- The creation of the Ballpark Area Transit zone in the "heart of the neighborhood."
- Reconfiguration of the Ballpark TRAX Station to improve access from the west.
- Adding new crossings and expanding walkways to improve walking abilities on 1300 South.
- Creating a "sense of place" near the ballpark year-round.
- Repurpose parking lots and other underutilized properties to "add activity to the neighborhood."
- Invest in community amenities and green space to balance the growth of the neighborhood and improve the quality of life.
A "festival street" along West Temple adjacent to Smith's Ballpark is among the more specific ideas within the plan. The mayor said it would be designed so that the street could be closed down temporarily and offer events and community gatherings. Considering the Central Ninth Community Council, Urban Indian Center of Salt Lake and Utah Pride Center all have locations in the area, there are a lot of potential events others could host in the space in addition to city events.
"The planned Ballpark plaza and the festival street will address the need for outdoor community gathering space," she said, standing at a podium with various neighborhood vendors set up behind her to offer drinks, food and snacks.
The plan also calls for a new public library to address a growing need for indoor community space, as well. The city is still reviewing locations and more information is expected in the "not-so-distant future" regarding the plan.
Citing a growing need for green space, the plan also calls on ways to use Smith's Ballpark during times it is not used by the Salt Lake Bees and University of Utah baseball teams. The two teams, combined, have 85 scheduled games for the ballpark next year, leaving many more days where events aren't happening. Because of COVID-19, there wasn't even any minor league baseball last year.
At the same time, the neighborhood and surrounding area only have about 2.88 acres of open space per 1,000 residents, which is below the citywide average of 3.5 acres per 1,000 residents, according to Mendenhall.
Salt Lake City Councilman Darin Mano, who also lives by the ballpark, said the venue might be used for concerts or other festivities. Another possibility, he said, is to have restaurants that cater to fans on game days remain open year-round and have the field serve as picnic space.
"This is a gathering place," he said. "We want it to be a gathering place for the city. ... Of course, (we'll keep in mind) the needs of baseball play and all of that, but it's a nice green open space in the city that we can utilize more than just those (85) days a year."
Mano added that future zoning changes, infrastructure investments and road configurations will invite new businesses and help make it safer for people in the area. Some of this is already happening in the area; for instance, construction is well underway, shaking up 300 West in the area, and the owner of neighborhood institution Coachman's plans to use his business space for redevelopment two blocks east of the ballpark.
Two years of public feedback helped craft the plan, Mendenhall explained. However, there isn't an exact timeline for when these changes could start to happen.
What was released Monday may not be the finished project. The city plans to open a 45-day public comment period soon, likely in the next couple of weeks, where people can add what they like and don't like about the proposal; they can also add what they believe the plan lacks. The comments will be collected and given to the Salt Lake City Planning Division, where changes could be made.
Once approved by the planning division, the Salt Lake City Council will have a vote on the matter. Mano said he expects a vote to happen sometime in 2022; after that, the city will look into ways to get the funding needed for the various projects.
Reshaping an 'overlooked' neighborhood
Developing a plan for the neighborhood felt a bit personal for Mendenhall. She represented the neighborhood in the City Council prior to being elected mayor.
"I ran for that position and was inspired, in part, to run for mayor because I know the potential that this area — and even the State Street corridor — has for massive positive transformation," she said. "What we announced today is a real milestone that's been a long time in the making, not just talking about change but really how we're going to do it with the community."
The neighborhood has received a negative reputation in recent years as a result of "long-standing" crime and homelessness. Salt Lake City District 5, which includes the Ballpark neighborhood, is currently experiencing a large drop in robbery and a decline in overall property theft, but it also remains well above the five-year average in violent crimes and motor vehicle theft, according to Salt Lake police data.
The mayor said that the plan unveiled Monday shows that the city is looking into making a "deep investment" in assets in the neighborhood, which she believes will help the area thrive. As that happens, she believes it will eventually trickle down and improve the issues associated with the neighborhood.
Amy Hawkins, chairwoman of the Ballpark Community Council, thanked the mayor for formally acknowledging that the Ballpark neighborhood is "disadvantaged" and had statistics that backed up stories she's heard from residents and businesses owners.
"Now we feel heard," she said. "We need these additional plans and interventions because we, as a neighborhood, have been overlooked."
Meanwhile, Mano says he sees the neighborhood becoming more walkable and bikeable with the changes. He believes the plan will result in making the Ballpark neighborhood "a perfect balance of residents, local businesses and regional amenities."
It gives the neighborhood the possibility of looking like it does on a summer evening all year long.
"When the games are happening, the neighborhood comes alive. It's vibrant and you see young families walking around," he said. "I'm excited that will happen at other times as well."