Grand America owner acquires flower shop
Flower Patch • Property at heart of protracted legal battle finally sold to Earl Holding's Grand America hotel.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Nearly 20 years after it began, a David-and-Goliath struggle over a small piece of downtown Salt Lake City commercial property has quietly gone to the giant.

Grand America Hotels & Resorts has taken ownership of the iconic Flower Patch building and tiny parcel of land on the northeast corner of 500 South and State Street, county property records show.

In a deal finalized a week before Thanksgiving, a company called DT-#9 and held by Flower Patch founder Greg Parrish transferred the deed to the coveted Salt Lake property to FAE Holdings, headed by Grand America's vice president and hotel division controller, Mark Sykes.

Parrish, who sold business control of the Flower Patch chain of stores to a Florida company in 1999 but held onto the properties, confirmed the sale Monday. The Sandy resident and property manager said his commitment to keeping the historic Salt Lake building as a flower shop faded over the years.

"Now it's just a business situation," he said.

Flower Patch chain owner Tom Gordon said that while ''a great location,'' the building is old, antiquated and ''quite frankly, not worth remodeling for our purposes.''

The flower shop, one of six Flower Patch locations in the Salt Lake Valley and 10 statewide, will complete its lease and vacate the premises by March 2014, he said.

Parrish and Gordon said they weren't privy to details on whether Grand America plans to keep the building or raze it and build a new structure there. Grand America, meanwhile, didn't respond to requests for comment.

The Flower Patch and an adjacent parcel sparked a nasty and protracted fight starting in the mid-1990s, when owners Parrish and Stuart Nelson refused to sell and make way for oil and hotel billionaire Earl Holding's plans to build a luxury hotel and convention center across all of Salt Lake's Block 34.

"A lot of people respected the fact that those property owners stuck by their guns," said former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson, who was elected after the battle was all but over. "Those were some courageous holdouts that took on wealthy, powerful forces in the community and prevailed for a time."

The turn-of-the-century stucco Flower Patch shop fronted on State Street also was symbolic "as a bulwark against that massive urban renewal type of project," said Keith Bartholomew, acting dean of the University of Utah's College of Architecture and Planning.

But Parrish said his fight had been about money as well as property rights.

"We felt like our property was worth a lot more than they were offering at the time," he said. "I wasn't attached to the building. I was attached to the principle of the rights of small business owners not being swept under the carpet by people with more money and power and wherewithal."

Parrish said he recently sold the Provo and Cottonwood Heights Flower Patch store properties and that commercial brokers with Pentad Properties approached him with "an attractive offer" on the Salt Lake locale earlier this year.

"If someone makes an offer," he said, "you have to look at everything."

Parrish would not divulge a sales price. Utah is one of about a half-dozen states where real property prices are not made public upon sale. The two-story corner building and 0.09-acre lot were valued for tax purposes at $326,000 combined.

Inquiries to Grand America seeking comment were referred to Portland, Ore.-based public-relations firm Lane PR. After not returning several calls last week, a Lane spokeswoman said Monday Grand America controller Sykes was unable to schedule an interview.

The Flower Patch and an adjacent auto-glass store were in the way in mid-1990s when Holding sought to expand his Little America operations eastward to cover the block between 500 and 600 South and State and Main streets.

The Sinclair Oil company owner and hotelier had slowly purchased downtown land for years in advance of announcing construction of a huge five-star hotel and convention center facility, to be known as Grand America and set to open in time for the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City.

All of Block 34 belonged to Holding, save that northeast corner. But floral company founder Parrish and boat dealer-turned-landlord Nelson refused to budge, even after Holding convinced the city's Redevelopment Agency (RDA) to condemn those and a slew of other properties as blighted and take control using eminent domain.

City leaders at the time viewed Holding's $185 million project as a potential boon to the local economy and a future south-end anchor of Salt Lake's central business district. Parrish, Nelson and other property owners countered condemnation with a lawsuit that lasted more than two and half years.

As the 2002 Olympics neared, Holding gave up on the RDA tactic and opted to build his new flagship hotel around the Flower Patch, a decision that forced him to scale back on the hotel's size by about 125 rooms.

The 24-story European-styled hotel complex now dwarfs the two-story, mustard-yellow floral shop, with the two properties separated by a small, L-shaped parking lot perimeter. Nelson sold out to Grand America years ago, records show, leaving Parrish the last holdout on the block.

Holding died in April at age 86 from lingering complications of a stroke suffered in 2002. The highly respected Salt Lake City-born businessman, who purchased Sinclair Oil in 1977, left behind an oil, hotel, ski resort and ranching empire valued at nearly $2.6 billion.