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Carrying rolled-up renderings of his latest design, developer Craig Mecham extended his hand to City Hall for a $5 million loan Tuesday, promising his new-look project, coupling shops and 200 apartments, will fill in the so-called Sugar Hole and "put Sugar House back on the map."
The comment delivered without irony met only token resistance before the City Council, acting as the Redevelopment Agency Board, approved the loan on a 6-1 vote.
Both the council and Mecham, who demolished the eclectic shops lining the corner of 2100 South and Highland Drive three years ago before losing his financing, repeated their mutual goal to erase the blight known as the Sugar Hole.
Even so, Mecham said he still has not secured financing but has "strong feelers" from two or three banks.
That prompted an exchange with Councilman Luke Garrott, who was the lone "no" vote.
"I've got constituents who are going to wonder whether you should be rewarded, as it were," Garrott said. "A lot of constituents have expressed to me a lot of anger about what happened to the center of Sugar House. Do you get that?"
"I don't know what you mean by, 'Do I get that?' " Mecham answered. "Obviously, I've received some phone calls, and I've had discussions with lots of people."
But, Mecham maintained, more people favored his controversial demolition than opposed it.
"There were some very, very serious issues with those buildings," he said. "They needed some major help or they would fall down."
Mecham's initial plan included condominiums, an office complex and about 50,000 square feet of retail. The scaled-back blueprint nixes the condos for apartments, while envisioning 44,000 square feet of commercial shops.
As to what type of retail will define Sugar House's future, Mecham said he is pursuing a blend of national chains and local businesses lured through financial incentives.
"We'll do both," Mecham said. "It will be a 24-7 environment, and it will be a walkable environment. I can promise you that when we get through, this will be an enhancement that will enhance everything in Sugar House."
The stalled development has been a source of scorn in Sugar House, and the butt of jokes across the city, for years. But Councilman J.T. Martin argued it is not worth rehashing past failures.
"It's been bad, but let's look to the future," Martin said. "I wish you all the luck. Let's see something come out of the ground."
The loan carries a list of conditions including the receipt of primary financing, public parking, a public easement across the so-called Granite Block toward the planned streetcar and gold certification under Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. The project also must be appraised at a $41 million minimum and Mecham Management must put up real property as collateral.
Councilman Soren Simonsen, who called the project "very encouraging," also called for the entrance to the underground parking planned for the west side of Highland Drive to be considered for the middle of the roadway instead. That design, to be used at downtown's planned City Creek Center, would preserve street parking and provide mid-block pedestrian crossing. Mecham said his team is not "at all" opposed to such a change.
The loan could help Mecham acquire financing, according to RDA staffer Ed Butterfield, because it would tell lenders the developer has the backing of the RDA. D.J. Baxter, the RDA's executive director, said the city has offered "a number" of similar loans in the past.
If the developer secures full financing, he hopes to begin construction on the two-year build this fall.
In other city news Tuesday:
The Redevelopment Agency board unanimously approved the final design for the Wilmington Gardens Group Sugar House project at 1193-1233 East Wilmington Ave. The development calls for a mix of housing, shops and a public plaza across the street from Sugar House Park.