The empty lot across from Sally Barraclough's house became a makeshift park almost as soon as crews removed the last piece of debris following the demolition of an old Mormon wardhouse.
Now Barraclough and her neighbors are hoping to formalize the designation by purchasing the empty lot and converting it to a neighborhood park. Imperial Park, as neighbors have elected to call it, would then be turned over to Salt Lake City for maintenance and open-space preservation.
Children in the Highland Park neighborhood have lacked a nearby place to play since the surrounding lots filled with houses soon after World War II, Barraclough said. Fairmont and Sugar House parks are far away and require crossing busy streets to access the playgrounds. The .81 acre plot, at roughly 1560 E. Atkin Ave. (2825 South), is the only piece of property in the area not occupied by a home.
"It's our last chance to have a neighborhood park," said organizer Ben Burdett.
Soon after the LDS Imperial Ward house was demolished in spring of 2009, the property sported a "For Sale" sign with a price tag of nearly $1 million, Burdett said. But soon after the real-estate bubble burst, the property was pulled from the market.
And the church is still mulling the parcel's fate.
"The church has not determined the future of the property, which currently is not available for purchase," said LDS church spokesman Scott Trotter.
The LDS church has been an excellent partner on such projects in the past, said Emy Maloutas, Salt Lake City's Director of Parks and Public lands, who has worked closely with Imperial Park organizers. Though building the park seems quick and easy, applicants must go through a long process before such projects are completed.
"Even when you do have a willing seller, everything just takes time," Maloutas said, adding that the enthusiastic fundraising and organization on the project are decidedly in its favor.
Despite the uncertainty, residents are still hopeful the property will become available once the real estate market rebounds. They have raised a little more than $21,000 through barbecues, book sales and neighborhood socials. More than 50 surrounding families have made cash donations, and Salt Lake City has pledged to match the money raised from its open-space fund, Burdett said.
A design committee has already come up with a master plan for the park, which includes a gazebo, picnic tables, a children's play area and a walking path around the perimeter. Once complete, ownership of the park would be transferred to Salt Lake City, which would preserve it as open space in perpetuity.
Residents know they have a lot more money to raise before they can make an offer on the property, and plan to continue soliciting donations in hopes the property will be listed for sale again soon. If the plot is sold to a developer instead, the Imperial Park 501(c)3 will donate the money raised thus far to other open-space projects, Barraclough said.
The empty lot isn't so empty these days, Barraclough said. From her front window across from the park, she sees pre-teen boys riding their BMX bikes over the dirt piles, families playing catch and one precocious preschooler who loves catching grasshoppers.
"It's becoming a park all on its own," Barraclough said.
Buy a book, build a park
Neighbors continue to raise funds for the Imperial Park Project. A book sale is planned for May 21, though the time and place are still being planned. For more information, or to donate, visit www.imperialparkproject.org or contact Sally Barraclough at 801-466-6186..