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Midvale: renovation means innovation.


Renovation Means Innovation

Ten years ago, Midvale's downtown had 25 vacant buildings out of 45. Now, after intense and focused redevelopment efforts with a strong partnership between city government and businesses, only five buildings stand vacant. Today there are 54 businesses downtown and only 12 vacant buildings. Tax revenue has increased.

Ten years ago, the area's economic viability was hampered by the presence of decrepit apartment buildings and street vagrants. Now the area has a strong atmosphere with the central two-block area remodeled in a charming Old West style. It has drawn specialty retailers and businesses, such as the Old Town Originals and the Comedy Circuit, which draw most of their business from outside of Midvale, bringing in revenue for continued economic development. New ideas are making "Old Town" Midvale a viable downtown once again.

Shift in Economic Base

Midvale was settled by Mormon pioneers in the late 1840s. Because of the railroad junction and the city's central valley location, industry came early to this part of the valley. The city has been called Junction City, Smelter City, and Hub City. By 1860, ores from Alta, Bingham, and Eureka were brought to the U.S. Mining, Smelter and Refining Co., which later became Sharon Steel. Emigrants who worked the mill and smelter and the neighboring farmers had the means to support a viable business district. During the second world war, Sharon Steel was one of Utah's largest employers, employing over 4,500 employees. Consumer businesses like Safeway, J. C. Penney, and Sprouse Reitz were attracted to the area.

Like most mining-based economies, Midvale experienced the bust. In 1960, low prices for processed ore brought the closure of the smelter and eventually the mill. This caused a major readjustment to the city's entire economy. Without the mining payroll, the consumer businesses pulled out of Midvale.

While business growth slacked off, residential growth rose. Government-subsidized programs for housing brought an influx of Asian nationalities, further enriching and enlarging the ethnic population of Midvale. Apartments and multifamily dwellings gave Midvale a high-density population. Absentee landlords who didn't take care of their properties took their toll on Midvale, giving it a very poor image.

Midvale was not only faced with crumbling rentals and vacant storefronts; it had to clean up environmental pollution left by the steel mill and smelter. The city has received EPA Superfund money to clean up the sites. This clean-up project will be completed within the next two to three years. At that point, 600-700 acres will be appropriated for business uses--possible development includes two industrial parks and a golf course. Residents in Midvale look forward to the restoration of their properties and the Jordan River Wetlands.

Business Knows What Works

In 1981 a redevelopment agency and an Old Town committee was formed. The Old Town committee was comprised of business leaders from Main Street and city government officials. According to Skip Criner, city director of development services, downtown property owners were surveyed about what kind of atmosphere they wanted. The committee then reviewed each business that was considering locating downtown to communicate what the community's vision was and to ensure that their vision matched the needs of business. The current Old West style of renovated buildings in the area's two-block center is the result.

"Jack Willis, the city planner at the time, wanted to create a commercially viable business," said Criner of his predecessor. "He knew Midvale didn't have the traffic flow of 7200 S. or Main to draw the types of businesses those districts did." Thus, Midvale opted to develop a downtown with a unique atmosphere and businesses. In 1984 Willis established the area as a redevelopment area and obtained a federally funded City Development Block grant.

When Mayor Dahl took office in January of 1986, he committed the city's money to major clean-up efforts; the installation of curbs, gutters, and lights; and tough building inspections.

Every building in town, even City Hall, was inspected for safety and minimum code requirements. This inspection forced the closure of 13 apartment buildings, of which only three have reopened. Image and attitude improvements were brought about by advertising campaigns and wash and sweep days for the residential areas was well as the business districts. An Arts Council was formed, and citywide festivals were developed. One such festival is the six-year-old Cinco de Mayo, a Hispanic festival held on May 5.

The business community began to appreciate the efforts of the city. As new specialty businesses moved to Old Town Midvale, new tax dollars were generated. This new revenue made it possible for the city to offer bridge loans to help businesses improve their properties. Available since 1986, the bridge loans are available for small businesses with a three- to seven-year payback at 3 percent interest rates. Loans for such projects were difficult to secure from a bank because of the condition of the area. Thus far, 10 buildings have been remodeled in the Old West style, and Criner hopes the rest of downtown will follow suit.

This year, the city has bought land to create parking spaces. "Unless we have accessible parking," said Criner, "downtown just won't work."

Getting Results

The city has been more than cooperative believes Bill Spinning, owner of Comedy Circuit. "The old theater was perfect for what we needed," he observed. The Comedy Circuit is sold out almost every night."

Vincent Drug has been on Main Street since 1911. Kent Vincent has been able to watch the changes and progress. "Midvale has a more pleasant atmosphere now. It is a lot nicer to have the buildings filling up," said Vincent. The drugstore has been able to maintain a steady business through the times. Seventy percent of its business comes from outside Midvale. His business was able to use a bridge loan to repair the roof.

The business atmosphere in Old Town Midvale is professional, but friendly and accessible. With the city government's continued commitment to business and its definite goals, Old Town Midvale shouldn't run short of new ideas--or revenue--any time soon.

Debbie Hair is a free-lance writer from Salt Lake City.
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:new ideas making Midvale, Utah a viable downtown again
Author:Hair, Debbie
Publication:Utah Business
Date:Oct 1, 1991
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