Environmental Protection Agency Brownfields Conference, 3-20-2000

Transformation of Our Brownfields

by Rocky Anderson

Guten tag. Good morning. On behalf of our citizens, it is my pleasure to welcome you to Salt Lake City. I am especially pleased to welcome our colleagues from Germany. This conference presents an important opportunity for us to learn from each other about innovative ways to create more vibrant, sustainable communities.

In the last hundred years our cities have undergone rapid transformation stimulated by technological change. Two examples of this change, the industrialization of urban areas and the proliferation of automobiles, have had a profound impact on the health of urban communities. Cities around the world are now faced with vast expanses of urban land, which were once a hub of industrial activity, that now lie abandoned and fraught with potential, or real, environmental challenges. Often, as in the case of Salt Lake City, these tracts of land are immediately adjacent to the center of the city. Left as a ‘Brownfield,’ this land is not merely a lost opportunity for development, but also detracts from the vitality of the urban core of the city. In Salt Lake City, as is the case in many other cities, our Brownfield area contains rail road tracks which act as a ‘no man’s land’ between the affluent part of our community and the less affluent community on the other side. One of the major benefits of Brownfield reclamation is the potential for it to link neighborhoods, thus increasing their vitality. We are redefining our cities and creating an urban renaissance by reclaiming Brownfields.

I was recently elected Mayor. During my campaign I spent hundreds of hours talking with the citizens of this City. Many of the individuals with whom I spoke expressed concern about the fate of our downtown, which was once an active, bustling core of our city and now is scattered with vacant storefronts. Many expressed concern about the rapid growth we are experiencing and the potential for urban sprawl that frequently accompanies such growth.

My administration is committed to revitalizing the downtown core of Salt Lake City and to preventing the sprawl that accompanies growth and detracts from our urban core. I believe that one important way to enliven our downtown is to establish a 24-hour population by creating new housing opportunities downtown and in the areas adjacent to downtown. The creation of these housing opportunities is perhaps the most important element of Salt Lake City’s Brownfield reclamation project, in an area we refer to as the Gateway.

growth.jpgThe Gateway is comprised of approximately 640 acres on the western edge of our downtown. Until recently, it contained extensive railroad yards and was zoned for industrial and light industrial uses. Interstate 15 defines the Gateway’s western boundary. The name ‘Gateway,’ is derived from the fact that this area is indeed a gateway into our downtown, by virtue of the exits from the highway that pass over it and now through it. In fact, it was the reconstruction of Interstate 15 that was the catalyst for the decision to redevelop the area because the construction project allowed for shortening of several of the highway viaducts.

Our Gateway redevelopment effort contains a strong transportation component. We are working to create an inter-modal hub in the project area that will link together an interstate train system, a 3-county-wide commuter rail system, an expanded light rail system, buses, cabs, bicycles and even, perhaps, horse drawn carriages.

Brownfield reclamation is not easy. The Gateway project has been subject to a great deal of public scrutiny and debate. The City created a master plan for Gateway after an extensive community process and in a separate process two sections of the Gateway were designated as Redevelopment Agency Project Areas.

The Gateway redevelopment project has involved a complex network of partnerships between many levels of government and the private sector. The United States Environmental Protection Agency has provided Salt Lake City with extensive assistance and information in support of our Brownfield redevelopment effort. We are fortunate to have been designated a Brownfield Showcase Community and welcome the continued support. Other agencies involved with this project include the Utah Department of Transportation, the Utah Transit Authority, the Federal Transportation Administration, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Salt Lake Olympic Organizing Committee, the Department of Commerce, the Army Corps of Engineers, and private developers, to name a few.

This project has also created a healthy dialogue in our community regarding the appropriate role of government intervention. One of the tensions involved with our project is the potential for the planned retail uses in the area to detract from the vitality of our downtown. We are now very close to reaching a decision on a compromise proposal that allows the reclamation effort to proceed while protecting to a large extent, the interests of business owners in our core downtown area. The compromise also calls for scaling back some of the immediate infrastructure improvements in the area to accommodate our City’s budget constraints. The key to this compromise has been to leave many options for redevelopment open in the future, while addressing the most significant environmental concerns as quickly as possible.

I have described just a few of the elements involved in our Brownfield reclamation project. Alice Steiner, Director of Salt Lake City’s Redevelopment Agency, will be speaking to you in greater detail regarding the Gateway project and you will have an opportunity to tour the site on Wednesday.

Once again, wilkommen! I hope you enjoy your stay with us and I hope you leave this conference with new ideas and enthusiasm for the important work you’re doing.