So you want to go to downtown West Jordan? But where is he ?
Western Jordan • On a normal weekday afternoon around Veterans Memorial Park, the Wild West Jordan Playground is full of kids running, swinging, and spinning with their parents. Others borrow books from the library across the street.
Walk for a few minutes and see tennis players hitting the courts and swimmers splashing about in an outdoor pool. The area, which is near City Hall at 8000 S. Redwood Road (1700 West), is also home to the West Jordan Historical Museum and rodeo grounds for the West Jordan Western Stampede.
For some residents, this is the best gathering space in western Jordan. They are satisfied with its features. For others, however, the city lacks a centre, a core, a heart.
With 117,000 residents, West Jordan is the third most populous city in the state (behind Salt Lake City and West Valley City and just ahead of Provo in the 2020 census). For them, the city lacks a place that reflects its growth and identity.
The idea of creating a town center has been around for years. The plot in front of City Hall has traditionally been the area the city considers most suitable for such a project. But that land has multiple owners, with Jordan School District being the largest, and there are no concrete plans to buy it.
“The city has no interest in pushing these landowners into something they don’t want to do,” said Tauni Barker, the city’s director of public affairs. “However, they want to have a plan in place. So if a developer wanted to come and buy out these landowners at any time in the future, there was some sort of plan for what this area would look like.
That downtown would most likely be a mixed-use area, Barker said, with high-density housing and commercial properties.
How much the project might cost
Although discussions of the proposals have been active within the city council, all plans appear to be pointing to the distant future. Without a willing real estate seller, the project would take nearly 50 years to see the light of day. But, should the school district decide to unload its property, Barker said, a town center could be made possible in two to five years.
This particular land is of interest to the city for its proximity to Veterans Memorial Park amenities and a TRAX stop. These features would facilitate the pedestrian aspect of the potential downtown.
“We’ve had conversations over the years with the city, and we’re open to considering a proposal,” said Sandra Riesgraf, the school district’s communications director. “But we don’t have any to consider at this time.”
Funding for a project of this magnitude would also be limiting. Buying the land from the school district could cost between $75 million and $100 million.
“The city certainly doesn’t have $100 million to try to offer to buy the school district out of this space,” Barker said. “And they’re just one of the owners.”
There is another challenge: the plot accommodates the school district’s auxiliary services and its relocation adds to the bill. There should also be developers willing to work with the city on its vision for a downtown. And West Jordan might need additional help from Salt Lake County or a state agency.
The downtown discussion includes plans to connect West Jordan’s main park to other trail networks and the Jordan River.
“It’s going to take time,” said Kayleen Whitelock, city council president. “And we need to come to a consensus and have a really good plan that we can then commercialize, because it’s going to take more than just one developer.”
The council should consider zoning changes, as well as other permits and land acquisitions, all without resorting to eminent domain, which this council has no interest in pursuing.
“Now is the time to get it right,” Whitelock said.
In 2021, the council rejected a plan by its economic development office, which consisted of passable blocks and space for a small grocery store. The issues with the rendering were that it focused too much on housing and would displace a mobile home park.
“It’s close,” Whitelock said, “but it’s not exactly what we wanted.”
The goal is to “create a sense of belonging,” she said. “So we’re not looking to install tons and tons of high-density housing,”
What downtown residents want
Despite all the costs and other challenges, residents are free to decide what they would like to see.
“As the third largest city in Utah, it’s somewhat shameful that we don’t have an area that represents us like some of our surrounding smaller sister cities,” said Brandy Wright, a resident who participated in the West Jordan General Plan Committee.
Other downtown neighborhoods come to mind when you think about it. Something similar to Salt Lake City’s gateway or its 9th and 9th precincts some suggest, including greenery, sidewalks, and another grocery option.
“Having pedestrian access, mixed-use housing opportunities, small stores and different restaurants, preferably local, small mom and pop type places that may not be huge chains,” Wright said. “…Having a lot of diversity with an area where you can drop down and access a lot of different things and also have community events there, eventually.”
Leticia Huayhuay Castillo thinks having a downtown would make West Jordan ‘perfect’. She lives near Taylorsville, but enjoys taking her grandchildren to Veterans Memorial Park, which is just five minutes from her home.
“Sometimes we go to Salt Lake, around City Creek [Center]. It’s very nice to hang out there, shop in the stores and eat in the restaurants,” she said in Spanish. “I wish I had something similar nearby. We would save time. It takes me 45 minutes to get there, because I drive very slowly.
For Chad Lindeman, who moved to western Jordan four years ago, it’s all about small businesses and family joints.
“I love supporting small businesses,” he said. “It makes sense to put this in a city center in western Jordan.” He includes in his wish list restaurants, a bar, an open space with space for food trucks and a small room where people can organize art exhibitions.
And the promise of new development replacing what is currently in the area is equally enticing.
“This Jordan School District building, it doesn’t really fit in,” Lindeman said. “It would be nice to see that go away and something better out there.”
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Alixel Cabrera is a Report for America member of the corps and writes about the status of communities on the west side of the Salt Lake Valley for the Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps him keep writing stories like this; please consider making a tax deductible donation of any amount today by clicking here.