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The City Journals

Preservationists and Murray City squabble on historic downtown buildings

May 02, 2019 02:26PM ● By Shaun Delliskave

Murray’s Redevelopment Agency is considering the future of three buildings on State Street. (Shaun Delliskave/City Journals)

By Shaun Delliskave | [email protected]

A year after demolition plans for the historic Murray 1st Ward and Carnegie Library were halted, historic preservationists are again calling on Murray City to halt any plans to demolish a different set of downtown buildings. The Murray Redevelopment Agency is considering whether to level three buildings that sit between 4854 and 4874 State Street in downtown Murray. 

The buildings’ most recent tenants were Wright Costume, Murray Arts Centre and Vine Street Antiques. Two of the buildings currently have tenants on a month-to-month lease agreement, and the third building (Vine Street Antiques) is vacant.

Now owned by Murray City, the buildings started out as commercial properties, with the oldest building being the two-story Murray State Bank on 4854 State Street, built before 1903. The Grand Central Market, housing the Murray Arts Centre, was built in 1938. The building on the corner of State and 5th Avenue was built in 1903 and housed Murray’s first movie theater. 

A significant concern of the mayor and city staff is that these buildings are becoming increasingly dilapidated and unsafe. They either need significant investment or they need to be demolished in the near future; but, so far, no interest has been shown by any party to invest funds to renovate them.

“It’s not that the city wants to demolish the buildings,” said Mayor Blair Camp. “But rather the removal of these buildings is part of a redevelopment plan initiated several years ago. Murray City has not made any determination on the timing of any building demolition. At the January 22 RDA meeting, the possibility of getting a quote to demolish buildings the city owns along State Street was discussed. To date, the staff has not provided any further information to the RDA Board regarding those costs.”

Janice Strobell, a leader in the preservationist group Preserve Murray, argued, “There should not be demolition of buildings if it leaves an empty plot of land with no timeline in place for new development. Neighboring cities' codes do not allow demolition leaving empty plots of land without a defined timeline for the beginning of new construction.” 

The buildings in question sit in Murray’s historic downtown district. A local historic district is an entire area or group of historic structures deemed significant to the city's cultural fabric and are protected by public review. 

“These buildings have been deemed ‘contributing’ on the downtown's National Historic Register,” explained Strobell. “A taxpaying owner can receive tax credits for renovation of these buildings. They do need care, and with that care they can be iconic and contributing pieces of Murray's historic downtown once again. Utah's State Historic Preservation Office can provide professional expertise for the rehabilitation of these buildings.” 

In 2009, the city adopted an ordinance with strict requirements and a lengthy process that had to be met prior to permitting any alterations (either interior or exterior) to certain buildings.

“The buildings… were purchased with the plan that the entire block would be redeveloped in a cohesive fashion and bring a renewed vitality to the area,” said Camp. “Since the city owns most of the block, we plan to enable development to align with an overall vision rather than having it redeveloped parcel by parcel. The city would still like to have the block cohesively developed and therefore plans to maintain ownership until an acceptable development plan is in place.”

“Preserve Murray seeks for multiple solutions to be brought to the table and considered by the city,” remarked Strobell. “Solutions by developers/new owners for the property along with other creative solutions that could allow these buildings to become productive while owned by the city and awaiting proposals by new owners/developers.” 

Camp said unfortunately, past plans with developers have not come to fruition.

“Recently, the city has been talking with two potential developers for this site, but in both cases discussion is preliminary. We are willing to have discussions with any developer or development group that is interested in a development on this site,” noted Camp. “Our plans for the new city hall to be located west of these parcels is moving forward, and the new headquarters fire station is under construction.”