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The City Journals

What will it take for Fairbourne Station to become a thriving "downtown?"

Sep 09, 2020 04:19PM ● By Darrell Kirby

Quiet and mostly empty now, West Valley officials hope the already-open parking structure on the left and the almost finished nine-story mixed-used office building, background on right, will be bustling in the near future. (Darrell Kirby/City Journals)

By Darrell Kirby | [email protected]

It started simply enough one day in May. 

My wife approached me and stated that it was time to sell the West Valley City home we occupied for the past 10 years and have one built in a new development about a mile away.  

No argument here, I thought, because she had a similar prompting a decade earlier which resulted in us moving from Tooele to West Valley and that turned out well. 

In our decade here, I have developed a great fondness for West Valley City and its still-growing potential and also had some of my preconceptions about the city dispelled. 

On a side note, the real estate professionals are right—the local housing market really is hot right now. Our pretty-average house went on the market, received several offers, and was under contract all in the span of two days. Two other homes for sale in our neighborhood were spoken for in under 10 days. 

While our new home is being built, my wife, three kids, and I, and what stuff we didn’t cram into a storage unit are “cozily” coexisting in an apartment at Fairbourne Station. That’s the 225-unit two-story complex in what West Valley City leaders hope will become the “downtown” area dubbed Fairbourne Station that the city hasn’t really had up to now. It is managed by ICO Communities, the multifamily property management arm of Ivory Homes. 

The place is modern, clean, and has great amenities. Maybe that will offset what will surely be the annoyances and frayed nerves that come when family members live in unaccustomed close quarters. I’ll let you know in about five months. 

In addition to the multifamily housing, city leaders have planned for and partially executed a central core consisting of Valley Fair Mall, City Hall, the UTA bus and TRAX station, the police department, a nearly finished nine-story mixed-use office building, a five-level public parking structure, a park-like gathering area known as Fairbourne Station Promenade and Plaza, and the apartments I call home right now with a similar-sized complex under construction across the street. Embassy Suites and Granger Medical Clinic round out the western flank of downtown. The initial planning for all this started in earnest in the early 2000s and ground was broken for the first components around 2010-11, unless you include the revamping of Valley Fair Mall, which was already completed around that time. 

Since I now dwell here, I’ve thought a lot about what could make for a lively and sustainable “downtown” West Valley City. Clearly, it will never rival downtown Salt Lake City. The capital city has well over 150 years of history, name recognition, infrastructure, and public and private resources on its side compared to its 40 year-old neighbor. A cluster of 15- or 20-story buildings will probably never grace West Valley’s skyline. 

But given what it already has in place and the right mix of future planning, investment, and promotion, I believe West Valley City’s own downtown can be molded to fit what the city has or will have in place to become a source of civic pride and an economic contributor, as well as a place to work, live, dine, and enjoy an outdoor concert or other forms of art and entertainment.   

American Investment Properties is a commercial real estate firm on Long Island, New York. It’s website contains an extensive list of things that make a vibrant downtown. They include some that West Valley City can already check off: 

  • Pedestrian-friendly environment
  • Greenery: trees, shrubs, flowers, planters, etc.
  • Open public space such as a park 
  • Frequent and reliable public transportation
  • Street furniture, such as benches and seating

Other characteristics that will hopefully come to Fairbourne Station over time are: 

  • Outdoor cafes or restaurants that draw patrons outside, increase pedestrian traffic, and create a highly visible gathering place
  • Attractive storefronts that encourage window shopping
  • Playgrounds and play areas for children

West Valley City Mayor Ron Bigelow says what’s taken place in the city center so far is being noticed. “A lot of people are very impressed with it, especially people outside of West Valley,” he said. The budding central district is helping West Valley shed its image as a bedroom community and further forge its own identity, he said.  

As I walk along Lehman Avenue, Market Street, and 2700 West (Constitution Blvd.), I picture in my mind office workers crisscrossing the area to hit up nearby eateries for lunch and partaking of their meal on a bench or the grass at the promenade and plaza. As day fades into night, I see residents and visitors strolling with family, friends, and pets or congregating for some kind of outdoor event at Fairbourne Station’s open area. 

That late-day activity is especially important, says Ted Knowlton, deputy director of the Wasatch Front Regional Council and president of the Utah chapter of the American Planning Association. A downtown with only offices “tends to dry up and be very quiet at night,” he said. Same thing with just housing. “When you have a mix of uses, you’re going to get a lot of interactions between them” and eliminate the dead times, Knowlton added.

He credits West Valley City leaders for envisioning and making an active city center a reality. “The ability to get a downtown to grow where 10 years ago there wasn’t really much of a downtown takes a lot of work and partnerships with the private sector. It’s a sign of how effective the city is in getting it going as much as they have.” 

Other parties will be needed to push it even further. The creation of a business improvement district and a coalition of community partners like ChamberWest, economic-development and commercial leasing professionals, municipal planners and redevelopment experts and perhaps the formation of a business improvement could all contribute to making the downtown area a long-term success.  

And don’t forget one very important group: West Valley City residents. After all, this is their city and they, too, have a big stake in the successful development of a place to call “downtown.”

Meantime, whether or not you live or work around there, step out or stop by and walk around Fairbourne Station, or downtown West Valley City. Take it in for what it is now and what it could be in the months and years ahead.