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The City Journals

Carriage Square to receive a million-dollar facelift, most of it funded through Uncle Sam’s CDBG wallet

Jul 29, 2021 11:16AM ● By Carl Fauver

A massive apartment complex now under construction will soon put hundreds of new residents within walking distance of Carriage Square. (Carl Fauver/City Journals)

By Carl Fauver | [email protected]

Venerable (some might say “rundown” or “dilapidated”) Carriage Square is on track to receive a million-dollar facelift, thanks to a unanimous vote from the Taylorsville City Council to provide three-quarters of that amount through their federal Community Development Block Grant funding, provided over several years by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“I applaud the council for supporting the Carriage Square proposal, because that area (4100 South Redwood Road) is a gateway to our city,” said Mayor Kristie Overson. “It is a unique site and now we have an opportunity to highlight it. It is a gem we really need to accentuate.”

As it turns out, the only reason $758,694 in HUD money is available to fund Carriage Square improvements is because another federal department, the Environmental Protection Agency, killed the city’s original plan for the Uncle Sam handout. Ken Donarski, an independent consultant to Taylorsville City on projects like this for nearly 20 years, explained.

“For seven years, the city has been setting aside some if its CDBG money each year for a project to remodel the Taylorsville Senior Center, to nearly double the size of the kitchen there,” Donarski said. “However, a few years ago, an environmental study determined there is ground contamination outside the senior center, from an old dry-cleaning shop that had been there years ago. We tried for a couple of years to mitigate the problem. But eventually HUD said ‘no’ to the project.”

Once the senior center kitchen expansion was dead, city leaders faced another challenge.

“The city had been setting aside CDBG funds for the project since 2014,” Donarski said. “The trouble is, if you don’t spend that money within seven years, HUD takes it back. So once the senior center plan was gone, we needed to identify another project that would meet CDBG requirements, before we started losing chunks of that money each year.”

Taylorsville Economic & Community Development Director Wayne Harper said the timing was right, because about the time the senior center project fell “off the table,” members of the Carriage Square Property Owners’ Association began putting a new idea “on the table.”

“I started talking with the property owners’ association because Carriage Square is such a unique, wonderful, multicultural center and a great ‘mom-and-pop’ start-up business incubator,” Harper said. “They sell clothing, insurance, food, business services and lots of other things there. Carriage Square was built in the early 1970s, and the owners have never asked the city for money in the past. But during COVID, they were hit hard. We feel the [CDBG] funding is appropriate.”

City officials have also made it clear to the business owners, the $758,000 will definitely come with strings attached. However, Carriage Square Property Owners’ Association Vice President Bill Mertlich – owner of the property’s most northwest building, which houses about 10 businesses – says his group has no problem with that.”

“We understand the city can only spend HUD money on things like sidewalks and the parking lot,” Mertlich said. “The business owners have said they are willing to spend money to update signage and storefronts. Some owners will have more to do than others. Some have already channeled money into improvements. We are very appreciative of the way the city is working with us.”

A Lehi resident, Mertlich commutes to his 26,000-square-foot Carriage Square building daily. In addition to renting space to several businesses, he also owns and operates Salones Villa Magnolia, a wedding reception center that caters primarily to a Hispanic clientele. 

In fact, the majority of businesses in Carriage Square are now minority-owned. That’s one reason why the council’s liaison to the city’s Cultural Diversity Committee, Taylorsville City Council Chairman Curt Cochran, is also excited about the facelift plan.

“Carriage square has a very unique design and ownership structure, so I was encouraged to hear the owners are coming together in favor of making improvements,” Cochran said. “This is a wonderful opportunity to improve such a unique place. The Vietnamese Cultural Center is headquartered there. They do a cultural fair each year. We also had a consulting group do some analysis last year. They identified Carriage Square as one of the city’s gems, where we should invest money.”

Another reason all the parties involved seem to agree this is a good time to invest in Carriage Square can be found directly across 4100 South, north of the shopping area. Construction is continuing on a multi-story apartment complex that will soon put hundreds of new residents within easy walking distance of the square.

“I think the apartment project helped motivate the city to assist us with the HUD funding,” Mertlich added. “It’s in everyone’s best interest if we clean and update Carriage Square to help draw in some of those new [potential customers].”

Once home to a long-torn-down Kmart store, that corner of 4100 South Redwood Road directly north of Carriage Square is now home to a CVS Pharmacy, Starbucks and Popeye’s Louisiana Chicken, all built within the past couple of years. The kicker is all of the local sales tax revenues spent in those businesses go to West Valley City. But if the new apartment residents can be enticed across 4100 South into Carriage Square, the sales tax revenues go to Taylorsville.

Assuming the 34 property owners come up with a combined $250,000 to improve their businesses, this will become a “million-dollar” Carriage Square facelift. City officials and business owners are all anxious for the work to begin. However, before that can happen, two important hurdles must be cleared.

First, the two sides need to agree on what will be required of the business owners before HUD money will be spent. This could be a specific dollar amount pledge, or it could be more vague. For instance, the city could simply require “fresh coats of paint and updated, consistent business signage.”

Second, again because federal CDBG funds are involved, the EPA must sign off on the project.

“Because you are digging into the ground (to improve the Carriage Square parking area and to widen sidewalks), HUD requires an environmental study,” Donarski said. “But we don’t anticipate any problems. I would like to see the work get started before the end of the year. But we have to do it right.”

“It’s very important to the city our small businesses succeed,” Overson said. “Carriage Square has a diverse population and many minority owners. We are excited to help them, just as we are all small business owners.”