Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

What does SLC’s Rio Grande District vision mean for the ballyhooed Rio Grande Plan?

The Rio Grande Depot in downtown Salt Lake City, Sept. 20, 2023
Martha Harris
The Rio Grande Depot in downtown Salt Lake City, Sept. 20, 2023

The Salt Lake City Redevelopment Agency has unveiled plans for the downtown Rio Grande District. They detail new retail and office spaces in the area west of the Rio Grande Depot.

The plans made no mention, however, of the more ambitious Rio Grande Plan proposed by Christian Lenhart and Cameron Blakely in 2020.

Salt Lake City released a study of the plan in 2023. It estimated it would cost $3.5 billion to complete. The plan was much more transit-oriented and wanted to move the Amtrak, FrontRunner and Union Pacific rail lines under 500 West. This would do away with dangerous rail crossings, allow for easier movement between the east and west sides of the city and open up more land for development.

Project organizer Matt Givens acknowledged that it's “a big project” but he said “it's not anything unachievable.” And since the city has shown it's serious about it, he thinks it’s odd the plan developed by the RDA doesn't mention it.

The Rio Grande District was presented at the Salt Lake City Council meeting on April 16. Council member Dan Dugan was disappointed that the Rio Grande Plan was not mentioned. Even though he loves the vision for the two blocks, he feels "we're missing the opportunity to develop the access for people to get there from the other side of 600 West.”

According to Ashley Ogden, a senior product manager with the city’s redevelopment agency, the lack of a mention is in part because the agency wouldn’t be directly involved with the project.

“If the Rio Grande Plan moves ahead, you know, full steam ahead, then it probably is not going to be the RDA owning that major transportation project. That probably will be the transportation division. So we've been totally deferring to them on that.”

Givens said plans for the district need to consider the Rio Grande Plan if they don’t want to run into issues implementing the project later on.

“For instance, you know, running a bunch of new utility lines under Fifth West would just make the future project more difficult or expensive.”

He suspects it has more to do with how long the city has been trying to develop the area. As a result, “they see the Rio Grande plan as just being too big, and it is too big for the city to do by itself. And they don't want to be slowed down by it.”

Givens agrees that it will take much more than just the city for the transit-oriented plan to work. He said state lawmakers and city officials alike have expressed interest, and there’s federal funding that could be applied for as well.

“But, you know, with federal help, state help, it makes a lot of sense compared to some of the other things that the state already spends this kind of money on.”

Corrected: April 19, 2024 at 1:18 PM MDT
An earlier version of this story misspelled the surname of District 6 Salt Lake City councilmember Dan Dugan.
Corrected: April 18, 2024 at 10:01 PM MDT
This story was updated to remove a transcription error in the quote from councilmember Dan Dugan.
Tilda is KUER’s growth, wealth and poverty reporter in the Central Utah bureau based out of Provo.
KUER is listener-supported public radio. Support this work by making a donation today.