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Sandy • After spending three years and $2 million in planning, officials unveiled blueprints Monday to transform 1,100 acres in the heart of Sandy into a new downtown with high-rise residential and office towers and a renovated South Towne Mall.

Plans call for new trails, transportation improvements, hotels, a bustling arts and entertainment scene and other amenities officials say will make Sandy's city center an international base camp for recreation in the Wasatch canyons.

It is exactly the sort of new high-density development around mass transit that regional planners have been promoting to handle an expected doubling of the Wasatch Front's population over the next 30 years.

"We have pretty much filled up as far as single-family residences are concerned," said Sandy Mayor Tom Dolan. "Density is a necessity. We can no longer spread out in sprawl. We have to go up" with high rises. "We want our citizens to live, work and play here" without the need to travel far, saving fuel, land and preventing air pollution.

Many new office, housing and hotel projects are already underway, Dolan said.

"The Cairns" is the city's name for the area, which will stretch between 90th South and 114th South, and Interstate 15 to the TRAX lines, and encompasses Rio Tinto Stadium and the South Towne Exposition Center.

Peter Pillman, a city design consultant, said a cairn is a rock pile that marks a trail, and shows people they are on the right path. "It marks crossroads. It marks places for meetings, for rendezvous. It marks boundaries and pathways," and cairns will be used as decorations and markers throughout the area.

He said the theme advances the idea that Sandy will be "where mountain meets urban."

The city used a 7-foot cairn in a ceremony Monday. A mountain climbing rope attached to it was used as the "ribbon" in a ribbon-cutting to launch both a new high-rise project and a planned new road.

The new residential project is called "The Prestige," and will include two 25-story towers, and two shorter six-story buildings. It will include 650 residential units, including apartments and condominiums at Centennial Parkway and Sego Lily Drive, just east of I-15.

"It will be an attraction to millennials as well as those empty-nesters who are retiring because it will give them a chance to downsize" and have recreation, entertainment and work nearby, said Dan Simons, CEO of Simons Platt Creations, the developer.

The same groundbreaking began work to extend Monroe Street toward South Towne Mall to help improve transportation through The Cairns. Dolan noted the first phase is a city project, and a planned second phase will be a state project — including work at the 106th South interchange with I-15 to add an underpass to provide direct access to South Towne Mall.

Gary Karl, vice President of Pacific Retail Capital Partners, said at the news conference that his company bought the South Towne Mall earlier this month and has plans for major renovations that will fit in with the concept of mountain-meets-urban. He said design of those renovations is still ongoing.

Bob Bonar, CEO and President of the Snowbird ski resort, said all the plans will help ski resorts and Sandy.

He said the Wasatch Canyon resorts have always ranked high for ski quality, "but when it comes to a lot of the other amenities that our guests love like night life and better shopping activities and additional hotel opportunities, we fall short."

He added, "So this is a perfect fit, I believe. All the upscale amenities our guests need and expect right here at base camp, The Cairns. And just up the road world-class skiing and summer activities."

The Utah Transit Authority is conducting studies on how to provide circulator bus service through the area between its FrontRunner and TRAX stops, Dolan said. The city also has plans for trails through the area to connect with other regional trail systems.

Dolan also noted that The Cairns includes the first "transit-oriented development" where UTA provided some of its land in a partnership with Hamilton Partners to create a residential and office development around the TRAX stop on 106th South.