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Taylorsville Journal

Mayor and city council members, current and past, unveil Centennial Plaza outside city hall

Nov 08, 2021 03:35PM ● By Carl Fauver

Elected officials current and past cut the grand opening ribbon on the new $3 million Centennial Plaza, in front of Taylorsville City Hall, on Oct. 15. (Carl Fauver/City Journals)

By Carl Fauver

You know the evening is going to be unusual when you hear a “classical” version of the Guns N’ Roses signature rock song “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” More unusual: the group performing it is called the “Vitamin String Quartet.” And odder still, the “DJ” cranking the hits—on Oct. 15, outside Taylorsville City Hall—is City Attorney (and part-time rocker in his own right) Tracy Cowdell.

But somehow it all seemed appropriate because the most unusual thing of the entire evening—after a near-20-year wait—was witnessing Taylorsville City campus visitors finally seeing something other than barren, raw, is-anything-ever-going-in-there dirt, south of city hall. At a cost of “a little more than $3 million dollars,” the acreage is now officially home to Centennial Plaza.

“Our Centennial Plaza is everything we thought it would be and something Taylorsville residents will be able to visit and enjoy for years to come,” Mayor Kristie Overson told a crowd of about 50 onlookers, just before the early evening ribbon cutting. “This will be a wonderful place for movies in the park, a farmers market, outdoor arts performances and many other activities. We are overjoyed with how it turned out.”

Following Overson’s brief comments, a somewhat chilled crowd walked out to the new city campus waterwall/gateway signs, near 5400 South, to witness the ribbon cutting. There the mayor was joined by current city council members Anna Barbieri, Ernest Burgess, Curt Cochran and Meredith Harker, along with former councilwoman (2010–2017) Dama Barbour.

Barbour was on the city council at a time when Taylorsville was receiving many offers to purchase portions of the open space that now house the Mid-Valley Performing Arts Center and Centennial Plaza. Her eyes misted, as she recalled the tenacity the council showed in not selling out.

“The minute the city bought this land (20-plus years ago) I had a concept of what it could be: a community gathering place,” Barbour said. “I wanted people to enjoy coming here because the site was more than just the police department and municipal court. Sure, those are important. But they don’t often make people smile. This will make people smile.”

Barbour said the closest they ever came to selling part of the acreage while she was on the city council was about 10 years ago, when a private company wanted a portion of it to construct a senior care center.

“They wanted the southeast corner of the (19.6-acre) property, right where the performing arts center is now,” she said. “I lobbied hard against that. It was a real debate, because the city could have used the money then (just after the 2007–2009 Great Recession). Thankfully we held out, and you can see what’s there now.”

As Barbour said that, she gestured to the $40 million MVPAC, which opened last summer. Salt Lake County funded the art center construction and operates the facility now on acreage leased from Taylorsville City. 

During her remarks prior to the ribbon cutting, Overson also introduced something new in conjunction with the Centennial Plaza grand opening: the Plaza +ART program. Through this new program, six Utah and Idaho artists are now displaying their sculpture work throughout the plaza. Among the six artists are a current Taylorsville father and his son, who no longer lives here, but graduated from Taylorsville High School not too many years ago.

“We are so excited to get this program going here in Taylorsville,” Dan Toone said. “This has been a dream of mine for several years now. We hope there will be a couple of new [sculpture] pedestals added each year and that the community will come to know and appreciate it more over time.”

Dan Toone’s piece, titled “Within a Dream,” is a 36-inch diameter sphere, made of aluminum fins welded together. Powder blue in color and positioned near the new outdoor amphitheater, the sphere and pedestal weigh about 150 pounds.

Meanwhile, Dan Toone’s son Josh, the Taylorsville High School graduate who now lives in Hyrum, has his sculpture, “Specter,” on a pedestal south of his father’s. The piece is a silver-colored cube supported by two copper-colored arches.

The other four artists displaying sculptures in the Plaza +ART program are: Doug Adams (“North Forty”), Deveren Farley (“Guitar”), Ben Hammond (“Mother & Child”) and Gary Lee Price (“Celebration”).

Dan Toone says the six pieces will remain in Centennial Plaza at least one year and are for sale. At the end of the year, Taylorsville City officials retain the option to purchase any pieces for permanent display. Those that leave their podiums will be replaced by new sculptures.

Up and down the roster, Taylorsville City Council members joined Overson after the ribbon cutting in expression pride and pleasure with how Centennial Plaza turned out.

“It is absolutely marvelous,” Barbieri said. “The art piece of it is so ingenious. It will bring a lot of new people. The whole thing is fresh and new.”

“It’s beautiful and great—the best thing we could have put here,” Burgess said. “This plaza will certainly be used.”

“In a sense this has been a long time coming, but in another sense, the time [constructing Centennial Plaza] went by quick,” Cochran said. “I’m particularly excited about the amphitheater. The city can use that in so many ways to make it a focal gathering point.”

“It’s so exciting to see it all come to fruition,” Harker said. “I was here to see the plans put together for the plaza. Seeing the real thing is great. I am just excited we don’t have to drive by a dirt field [to visit city hall] anymore.”

Harker is the city council liaison to the volunteer Parks & Recreation Committee. That group hosted the city’s first Centennial Plaza event. A month before the Oct. 15 ribbon cutting and just days after the grass was laid, committee members posted their inflatable movie screen in the new $750,000 amphitheater to show their final outdoor movie of the season.

Taylorsville City Planner Mark McGrath was as involved as anyone with the design of Centennial Plaza. He too is pleased with the final product.

“We’ve had the ‘bones’ of this design for about 10 years now,” McGrath said. “I think the public will love it. Has the world ever needed a community gathering place more than it does now?”

For the record, although the final price of Centennial Plaza was north of $3 million, much of the funding came from outside Taylorsville City. Three years ago, the city received a $1.4 million grant for the project from the Salt Lake County Tourism, Recreation, Cultural & Convention Advisory Board. And many years before that, city officials set aside $1.2 million after selling a small portion of the land (on the southwest corner) to what is now the St. Mark’s Taylorsville Emergency Center.

One final former city official who attended the Centennial Plaza ribbon cutting was familiar with the property long before any of the others. Original Taylorsville City Councilman Jim Dunnigan served on the council from the city’s 1996 incorporation through 2002. He was on the city team that identified the property and secured its purchase more than 20 years ago.

“There were not a lot of large tracts of land available to buy in Taylorsville, even way back then,” Dunnigan said. “We wanted to find something pretty centrally located in the city, which we did. I really like the new grand entrance [to the city campus] with the water feature [running down the wall, behind the raised lettering]. It makes a powerful statement for the city. I think they have done a wonderful job.”

Since leaving the city council in January 2003, Dunnigan has represented Taylorsville residents in his Utah House of Representatives District 39 seat.

Following the Oct. 15 Centennial Plaza ribbon cutting, the area will be largely dormant for the next few months, as Old Man Winter pays his annual visit. But starting next spring, city officials promise the new area will be abuzz with activity.

Elected officials are confident it won’t be long before those burnt-in memories of barren dirt outside Taylorsville City Hall will fade, with each passing outdoor concert, farmers’ market and movie in the park.

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