What’s next for Salt Lake City’s Fleet Block memorial murals?
The “Fleet Block” in Salt Lake City was once the site of the city’s vehicle fleet. Now, it is home to large red and pink portraits that memorialize people killed by police, mostly Utahns. What its future looks like is unclear.
It’s a special place to Rae Duckworth, operating chairperson for Black Lives Matter Utah Chapter. Duckworth estimates they visit the mural five to 10 times a week. Her cousin Bobby Duckworth was killed by Utah police in 2019 and is one of the faces on the white building.
To Duckworth, it’s a place of love, mourning and community, and the murals show that police brutality affects everyone.
When Duckworth visited the murals on Wednesday, they dropped off bags in a box by the portraits. The bags were put together by Sugar House Coffee and filled with supplies that anyone could take if they needed them — things like hand warmers, toothpaste, hygiene products and socks.
“Community does that. Community fills those boxes,” Duckworth said. “The city has no involvement in that. We just use the space they happen to own.”
The paintings started to pop up near 300 West and 900 South in 2020 after the murder of George Floyd.
Salt Lake City owns most of the block, and it has talked about rezoning and developing the area for years. After the murals went up in 2020, the city paused making any development decisions and focused on having more conversations with the public.
On Dec. 14, 2022, Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall and other city leaders shared how the city plans to move forward with development after working with the loved ones of the individuals depicted and other community members. In addition, they unveiled signs by the murals outlining the process.
“This is a step of transparency about the development process, the healing process of what may happen on this block and most of all, an invitation for the community to help shape this process, as they have so far,” Mendenhall said during a new conference in front of the murals.
According to the city’s website for the block, the Salt Lake City Council is currently reviewing a proposal from the mayor’s administration on rezoning the Fleet Block and is expected to vote on the plans sometime in the future, though a date has not been set.
Council member Darin Mano’s district includes the Fleet Block. He said the proposal outlines a type of zone that does not currently exist in the city. It is called “Form-Based Urban Neighborhood 3” and would allow a variety of uses, including residential, restaurants and commercial space.
Mano hopes some of the space is used to help minority-owned businesses or first-time business owners that may not be able to afford a space elsewhere. And a park or an open space is something else the city wants.
“A place for the community to gather, maybe a place for protest or a place for activism, but also a place for healing and peace,” Mano said. “There will be some significant portion of the block that is not developed with buildings and is left as an open space for the community to enjoy.”
The park would be funded by the Parks, Trails and Open Space bond that voters approved in the 2022 election.
Duckworth wants the future of the space to be focused on helping the community, because that’s how it’s being used right now. They would like to see the space provide resources for people in need, like mental health therapists.
Regardless of how the space is developed, Mano said the original murals will most likely not be preserved. He said it’s hard because the murals are on masonry walls that are attached to buildings with asbestos and other contaminants in them.
There have been discussions, he said, about letting the artists who painted the murals have a space within the new development to recreate something or preserving one mural to stand as a reminder.
“This is all speculation,” Mano said. “We’re still in the process of figuring out exactly what that will look like.”
Losing those murals is hard for Duckworth to think about. She said it was a space where people came together and talked about why they loved the people depicted in the paintings.
“I learned a lot here,” Duckworth said. “A lot of people learned a lot here. Everything about this space is community and community wins every single time. And I think that’s why it’s important to know this space exists.”
Comments can be emailed to Council.Comments@slcgov.com, submitted online or individuals can call (801) 535-7654.