2017 proves a strong year for Taylorsville but with a new law enforcement challenge
Jan 01, 2018 12:18PM
● By Carl Fauver
Meredith Harker (L) is new to the Taylorsville City Council in 2018, while Kristie Overson shifts from the council to the mayor’s office. (Carl Fauver/City Journals)
A Strong Year [8 Images] Click Any Image To Expand
Taylorsville City enjoyed another robust year of economic growth in 2017. Planning and design work also continued on a new performing arts center, with groundbreaking expected this year.
City law enforcement faces a bigger challenge, following a controversial crackdown on the homeless in Salt Lake City.
On the political front, two new members are joining the Taylorsville City Council, with one to be determined this month. Meanwhile, a former council member moves into the mayor’s office, becoming the city’s sixth mayor overall, and second female.
And Taylorsville City community councils also continued to exercise clout in 2017.
As 2018 dawns, a busy year lies ahead thanks in large part to many developments that began last year.
More economic improvement
New business ribbon cuttings were once again commonplace throughout Taylorsville in 2017, as the city continues to follow the state and national trend in bouncing back from the recession of a decade ago.
One of the most high-profile grand openings came last spring, when the new Regal Crossroads 14 & RPX cinema opened west of Harmons, in the Crossroads of Taylorsville shopping complex.
“I am overjoyed with this facility,” Mayor Larry Johnson said, as an oversized movie ticket was torn in front of the new theater, for its ‘ribbon cutting.’ The theater is the first-ever in Utah for Regal.
“There’s no particular reason why Regal has not been in the Utah market before,” said the company’s national marketing manager, Rachel Lueras. “Our research showed this to be an ideal location and we are continuing to evaluate other potential sites in the state.”
The new theater introduced ‘Buttkicker technology,’ which is the word Regal coined for the audio speakers implanted within the chairs of its most state-of-the-art theater. The chairs vibrate to correspond with the on-screen sound and action.
Not far south from the theater a new TJ Maxx store also opened in the Crossroads of Taylorsville. And work is continuing to fill many other vacant space in the complex.
“We’re seeing the movie theater do exactly what we hoped it would, generating more interest in the area,” said Bill Stone, with San Diego-based S Squared Development. “As people continue to become familiar with the theater, they are also discovering other new businesses in Crossroads.”
The entire commercial area – which runs south to the I-215 belt route – includes 725,000 square feet of retail space. Officials say occupancy nearly doubled in 2017, thanks in large part to the theater.
“This is the best economic development year I’ve seen, since I began to work for the city in 2007,” said City Manager John Taylor. “We are seeing the fruits of decisions made years ago. We’re in a good spot now and moving in the right direction.”
Mid-Valley Performing Arts Center
There’s still not much to be seen at the site of the new performing arts center – just a lonely sign, in the grass southeast of Taylorsville City Hall. But officials say 2017 was very productive in getting plans finalized for the facility, with groundbreaking due later this year.
Just over a year ago – December 5, 2016 – Salt Lake County officials formally announced the $39-million Mid-Valley Performing Arts Center, which will host its first events in 2020.
“Taylorsville is the perfect location,” County Mayor Ben McAdams said at the announcement. “This southwest part of the Salt Lake Valley is growing rapidly. We are very pleased with how accessible this location is.”
The arts center is expected to be 60,000 to 70,000 square feet and will feature two separate theaters. The larger performance area will seat about 400 people, while the other can be adjusted to fit an audience of 50 to 250, depending on the event.
Utah-based Method Studio and The Shalleck Collaborative, out of northern California, were named to the center’s design team last fall.
“Both organizations have a deep understanding and appreciation of the important role the arts play in our state and a breadth of experience in designing cultural projects,” Salt Lake County Center for the Arts Division Director Sarah Pearce said.
Several representatives from Taylorsville City have been meeting regularly with the design team – and Salt Lake County officials – to work through plans for the new facility. One of those meetings included a single-day trip to the Phoenix area, where the delegation toured a pair of performing art centers to get design ideas.
“The trip was very beneficial because we got to see some ‘top end’ things and some lower priced features,” Mayor Johnson said. “It helped us get a better feel for what we want our facility to look like.”
Taylorsville Community Development Director Mark McGrath – who also made the Arizona trip – added, “Our goal is to make this building as active as it can possibly be, sometimes hosting multiple activities simultaneously.”
Taylor said revenues from the Mid-Valley Performing Arts Center will primarily go back into operations and to the county.
“The center itself won’t be a money maker for the city,” he said. “But as people come to shows, and eat in our restaurants before or after performances, it will be a great benefit.”
City officials say, once construction of the art center is completed, they will begin to look at development options for the large parcel of land directly west of the site, southwest of city hall. Many have expressed interest in seeing an upscale restaurant there.
Operation Rio Grande fallout
One of the biggest stories coming out of downtown Salt Lake in 2017 was the multi-jurisdictional law enforcement crackdown on drug dealers and the homeless on the city’s west side.
Launched in mid-August, the effort – dubbed “Operation Rio Grande” – has resulted in more than 2,000 arrests.
The effort appears to have cleaned up a decades-old problem in the capitol city. But many law enforcement officials – including those who serve Taylorsville – say homeless issues have, for the most part, simply relocated.
“This (was) mishandled terribly by Salt Lake City; they never should have let it get to this point,” said Unified Police Taylorsville Precinct Chief Tracy Wyant. Several members of the city council have expressed the same frustration.
At a city council meeting just weeks after Operation Rio Grande was launched, Wyant told city officials transient complaint calls had doubled in the city.
“Public intoxication calls are up 50 percent,” the chief added. “While suspicious activity calls have increased about 30 percent.”
Unified officers serving Taylorsville say the problem has been concentrated along the Jordan River corridor, on the city’s eastern border. Moreover, South Salt Lake and West Valley City authorities have reported similar issues.
Unified Police have increased patrols along the river and have relocated people living in homeless encampments on multiple occasions. As expected, the problem has not been as bad during this coldest season.
“Some people have asked why we simply can’t allow people to camp along the river,” Wyant added. “The problem is, we see garbage and human waste in the area – along with an increase of bicycle thefts and other associated crimes.”
Taylorsville City Council members have asked Wyant whether taxpayers will need to fund more police officers to deal with the challenge. So far, that request has not been made by the department. But officials aren’t optimistic about the situation improving in 2018, while planned new homeless shelters are being built.
“I don’t think there is any doubt this problem will get worse before it gets better,” Wyant concluded.
Taylorsville community councils are getting things done
For the second year in a row, a major park project was completed in 2017, thanks in large part to the efforts of residents who live nearby. And many of those residents – members of Taylorsville community councils – openly wonder why more people aren’t doing the same, in other parts of the city.
“The city recognizes ten different community council districts, two in each of the five city council districts,” said Councilwoman (and Mayor-elect) Kristie Overson. “But as of now, we really only have two active community councils – one in my district (2) and one in Councilman (Ernest) Burgess’ district (1).”
The lack of competition from eight other potential community councils is allowing those two groups to thrive.
In 2016, $250,000 worth of new playground equipment was installed at Vista Park (2100 W. 5000 South). That came after Community Council 2A (in Overson’s city council district) researched the value of such a park upgrade and made a formal pitch request for funding.
Then earlier this year, the city also completed its transformation of the old Cabana Club swim park (1560 W. 4610 South) into a small, neighborhood open space. That project was championed by active residents in city council District 1.
“I am such a huge supporter of community councils because they are a great avenue for residents to meet each other and to work toward common goals,” Overson added.
A couple of years ago the community council in her area also successfully lobbied the city council to fund a 3-block-long wall, on the west side of Redwood Road, from 5000 to 5300 South. At last check, that council was looking for its next “big project.”
“The city doesn’t have a lot of extra money for community improvement projects, but we do have some,” said retiring City Councilwoman Dama Barbour. “These groups that do their homework and come to the council with solid ideas and cost estimates carry a lot of weight. I’d definitely like to see more of them.”
In fact, after choosing not to seek a third term on the city council, Barbour said she might just take things into her own hands.
“I may look at trying to set up a community council in my district (4), she said. “And (former Taylorsville Mayor) Janice (Auger-Rasmussen) better watch out if I do. She’s my neighbor, and probably the first one I’ll call to help me.”
“Community councils aren’t hard to set up – they just require a little time,” Mayor-elect Overson concluded. “But they can get a lot done and I think they’re good for the city.”
Anyone interested in establishing a Taylorsville community council should contact their city council representative.
Voters select new leadership
Speaking of Kristie Overson, Taylorsville voters elected her as the city’s sixth mayor in November and the second female mayor. While serving on the city council, Overson defeated one-term incumbent Mayor Larry Johnson.
“I’m really excited and glad I knocked on all those doors,” she said. “I got to hear so many concerns from our residents. Many of them said they weren’t aware of things that are happening. Improving communication will be one of my top priorities.”
Overson’s departure from the city council opens the door for another new member to join them. Applicants for the post will be interviewed and voted upon by the other council members this month.
That vote will be one of the first key decisions for the other Taylorsville City Council newcomer.
Elementary school teacher and mother of four Meredith Harker was elected to replace eight-year District 4 incumbent Dama Barbour, who chose not to seek a third term.
“I’m excited, overwhelmed (and) relieved,” Harker said. “I think my different perspective appealed to the voters. I’m in the trenches right now, with kids in school and raising a young family.”
The election’s only incumbent winner was District 5 City Councilman Dan Armstrong who won a second term over 19-year-old University of Utah student John Fuller.
The election of Overson and Harker followed a national trend that saw more women running for office and winning. Here in Utah, Provo voters elected their first female mayor in the city’s 157-year history.
However, women holding elected office in Taylorsville is not unusual. Janice Auger (now Rasmussen) was elected to the city’s very first council and remains the city’s only mayor to have served two full terms.
As 2017 retreats into the rearview mirror, it’s likely to be remembered in Taylorsville as a year with several positive trends continuing, a new challenge emerging and an election that has brought a new look to the council and mayor’s office.