Becker picks new site for police HQ -- across street from Library Square

Funding » The SLC mayor is also asking the council to put a $125M bond on the November ballot to pay for it.
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A month after bowing to a wave of criticism and abandoning plans for a new public-safety complex on Salt Lake City's Library Square, Mayor Ralph Becker is pushing a new site: across the street from there.

On Thursday, Becker endorsed a new recommendation from David Hart, architect of the state's Capitol renovation, and backed building a five-story police-fire headquarters and a three-story emergency-operations center across 300 East from Library Square.

The mayor also urged the Salt Lake City Council to put a $125 million bond on November's ballot to help pay for the complex.

The city already owns four acres, including the Barnes Bank building, at the site but plans to acquire an additional acre if the council signs on. The bank building would be razed.

On June 3, Becker, responding to public outcry, dropped a proposal to place the public-safety complex on the east end of Library Square (west of 300 East). Critics feared the buildings would blunt the library's stunning design and shrink downtown's open space.

One opponent of the Library Square site, former Councilwoman Deeda Seed, said in a statement Wednesday that she supports Becker's new proposal to place the complex farther east.

"Salt Lake City has an urgent need for a new public-safety building. We've known for years about serious deficiencies in the current building," Seed said. "We truly cannot afford to wait any longer to address this problem."

The city currently does not have an emergency-operations center -- a facility it wants to build in partnership with the state -- and its public-safety building is old, crowded and unlikely to survive a major earthquake. The capital also could forge a partnership on the police-fire building with Salt Lake County by making space for new offices for the district attorney.

"At this site, we could accommodate them," Becker said, "at very substantial savings to the county."

But District Attorney Lohra Miller said she would prefer a locale closer to the Matheson Courthouse, a two-block haul from 300 East.

"This is a little too far away," she said, "for an attorney carrying 50 files."

Still, she plans to continue negotiating with the city.

"As far as I'm concerned," County Mayor Peter Corroon said, "if the site works for the district attorney and is conducive for us to work closely with Salt Lake City police and other agencies, I'm OK with it."

The Salt Lake City Council will hold a public hearing Tuesday on the proposed $125 million bond -- a measure that would add $75 to the annual property-tax bill of a $262,000 home. Commercial property owners would fork out an extra $522 a year on a $1 million parcel.

Council Chairman Carlton Christensen said the council could vote as soon as Tuesday whether to place the bond on the fall ballot, but it's likely it would wait until July 14.

"This location can be a good one," said first-term Councilman Luke Garrott, who opposed the Library Square site. "I'm concerned that we do it the right way."

That means preserving businesses along 400 South, including the Salt Lake Roasting Co., Garrott said. The coffee shop is safe, according to the Mayor's Office.

Garrott also hopes the so-called civic campus spurs further mixed-use development, including housing.

Hart's report examined 10 possible sites for the public-safety complex. The other "top" choices mentioned were the Salt Lake Chamber parking lot on 400 South and the Health Department building on 200 East. But the Barnes Bank block crested the list for a number of factors, including its access to transportation, proximity to City Hall and "minimal cost."

Becker acknowledged Thursday the city faces a tough "campaign" -- especially during a deep economic recession -- to win over city voters, who rejected a larger, $192 million public-safety bond in 2005.

"Is it going to be a challenge to get this passed? You bet," the mayor said. "I wouldn't be bringing this forward if I didn't think there was critical need -- now."

Tribune reporter Jeremiah Stettler contributed to this story.

What's next

Tuesday » The Salt Lake City Council will hold a public hearing on the proposed $125 million bond for a public-safety complex. The meeting begins at 7 p.m. in City Hall, 451 S. State St.

Tuesday or July 14 » The council plans to decide whether to place the bond on the fall ballot.

Nov. 3 » If the bond reaches the ballot, voters will decide whether to fund the complex.