Caught in the throes of the Industrial Revolution, Tooele City’s Broadway area brimmed with energy at the turn of the last century. Nearly 100 years later, signs of this heyday remain — but mostly in the form of vacant buildings and crumbling infrastructure.
Stand on a street corner dressed in any sort of official attire, and a passing neighbor may stop to ask, “Are they finally going to tear all this down?”
But Soren Simonsen has a different vision for the neighborhood.
“We think that this neighborhood has a lot to offer,” he said.
Simonsen is the architect, planner and minority partner in Broadway Heritage LLC — a venture that formed in 2006 with the express purpose of revitalizing Broadway, an area that once served as a commercial hub for a community of immigrants who came to the area in the early 1900s to work at a nearby smelter and in surrounding mines.
In 2007, Broadway Heritage acquired several lots and buildings, including the historic Hotel Tooele, which stands at the corner of Date Street and Broadway. The company had grand plans for a $7.7 million remodel that would have converted the old abandoned hotel into a complex of affordable housing units geared toward families making $34,000 a year or less.
But then the Great Recession hit, and Broadway Heritage’s restoration lost most of its momentum. After struggling unsuccessfully for years to locate grants, tax credits or investors that might enable them to move forward with the project, Simonsen said he and his primary partner, Kevin Peterson, decided to take the renovation in a different direction.
Rather than apartments, Simonsen said Broadway Heritage has begun to roll out a new plan for building several townhomes — 18 homes on a lot across the street from the Hotel Tooele, and another 12 homes on the vacant lot between the hotel and the old Venus Club. The sale of these homes, he said, would then provide funding to refit the hotel for both commercial and residential use.
Though the townhouse proposal is still in its early stages, Simonsen said he envisions two- to four-bedroom homes, each 1,200 to 1,500 square feet. Each would have its own lot, and though the homes would lack side yards, they would have patios, porches, garages and a small yard area.
The development would target families with a household income near $45,000 and would sell for $150,000 to $170,000.
Though the townhomes would allow Broadway Heritage to approach its revitalization project in stages, thereby cutting into the proposal’s upfront cost, Simonsen said the partners still don’t have the necessary funding to begin construction.
To make up the difference, Broadway Heritage has approached the Tooele City Redevelopment Agency about borrowing against the tax increment to get the first set of townhomes constructed.
If the city were able to infuse a few hundred thousand dollars into the project, Simonsen said, then Broadway Heritage could use that initial funding to get the project off the ground. Once sales started coming in, Broadway Heritage could use the proceeds to build additional townhomes and, ultimately, restore the Hotel Tooele itself.
In the meanwhile, the restoration would benefit the entire community by removing blighted buildings, fixing old sidewalks and gutters, and filling in vacant lots, Simonsen said.
“We have a great interest in seeing this neighborhood revitalized,” Simonsen said. “Kevin [Peterson] and I both have a great interest in historic preservation.”
Likewise, the Tooele City RDA has expressed interest in revitalizing the Broadway area. But the city’s economic development consultant, Randy Sant, said the city has decided to proceed with the proposed public-private plan for development with caution. Previous projects, such as the renovation of the old Central School, have not turned out well for the city.
Broadway Heritage and the Tooele RDA met earlier this week to discuss the project, and the RDA ultimately requested that the partners provide more information on the marketability of a townhouse product, Sant said.
“We are very cautious,” he said. “We don’t want to invest public money in a project that can’t succeed.”
Simonsen, who said he appreciated the city’s thoroughness, plans to initiate some feasibility studies in the coming months. Until a willing investor is found, he said, the Broadway restoration will remain stagnant.
“We can’t move forward on this project without some investment,” he said.