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Heavy equipment and construction materials are starting to convert a large swath of land, nearly emptied of old buildings, into South Salt Lake's future downtown.

Rising first in this transformation is an 85,000-square-foot WinCo grocery store, the anchor in a mixed-use Boyer Co. development known as The Crossing.

Apartments to the south and north are projected to follow next year, providing needed affordable housing to the area, which currently has just 300 residents.

One large building with more than 250 units will extend between State and Main streets fronting Utah Transit Authority's streetcar line, while a 120-unit structure is envisioned for the southeast corner of 2100 South and Main.

"This is going to bring a lot of people in to live down there, and we're going to bring in more commercial [enterprises], too," said Michael Florence, the city's community and economic development director. "South Salt Lake doesn't have an identifiable downtown, so we're trying to create that — all built around access to transit."

The urban-renewal project is emerging just as the city tries to stave off the less-envious prospect of being selected as the site of a homeless resource center.

"We were doing a lot of changing gears, going from the homeless-shelter mayhem to the groundbreaking" for the development, Florence said before Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams recommended the facility be built at 3380 S. 1000 West, along South Salt Lake's western border.

The Crossing covers about 14.5 acres, a sixth of the territory in the envisioned $45 million downtown district, which stretches from State Street to 200 West between 2100 South and UTA's S-Line line.

"This is a vision with a 25-year horizon for growth and change in this unique neighborhood," said the city's downtown district master plan, leading to its "transformation to a walkable, urban place to serve as a city center."

To bring about this change, South Salt Lake spent several years buying land with proceeds from a $15 million sales tax bond. It demolished buildings and cleaned up some gasoline that had leaked from underground storage tanks at stations that occupied the area in bygone days.

"We wanted to see development happen there and for this to be the catalyst site," Florence said, noting that the grocery store and other enterprises will be supported by additional housing developments approved by the city.

"Between 400 East and West Temple, we have approved 1,000 residential units," he said. Among those is a 300-unit building that Cowboy Partners, which is developing the housing in The Crossing, is constructing on the east side of State Street — where the Ritz bowling alley used to operate.

Construction there starts next week, Florence said.

All in all, the downtown area is expected to include 2,500 multifamily-housing units, 1.5 million square feet of retail space and twice as much office and commercial space.

And with 500,000 vehicles passing the site daily, the city's master plan added, "this is the 'hinge' between downtown Salt Lake City and Sugar House, making it a desirable location for both businesses and residences."

South Salt Lake's population of about 25,000 doubles each weekday with workers attracted to the small businesses in the "City of Industry."

Developing The Crossing in this highly urban area has been an interesting challenge, said Boyer Co. project manager Scott Verhaaren.

"We've done plenty of shopping centers where retailers were front and center," he said. "But this one is a little different, with a big grocery store flanked on both sides by apartments."