Japantown advocates push for preservation of downtown street amid NHL stadium plans

Mar 19, 2024, 7:10 PM | Updated: Mar 20, 2024, 9:04 am

SALT LAKE CITY — A little-known street in downtown Salt Lake City is in the heart of what could become a new revitalized downtown and include a new stadium to house an NHL team.

And the Japanese-American community is nervous that some of their historic buildings along the street could be in jeopardy.

The block on 100 south between 2nd and 3rd west – known as Japantown — doesn’t look like much today, but it’s home to the 100-year-old Japanese Church of Christ, a Buddhist temple, and a community garden that the Japanese American community is working to protect.

“We will stay here. We’re not planning to move and we act as a community together, said Jani Iwamoto. She is a former state senator and one of the founders of the Japanese Community Preservation Committee.

Her group is working to make sure those historic buildings aren’t torn down if a new downtown gets built.

“The community is really worried. And even though things aren’t set in stone, it’s all fluid right now. The community needs to hear that,” she said.

Storied history

The street is home to loading docks and storage for the Salt Palace today, but it has a very storied history for Utah’s Japanese Americans.

It wasn’t long after WWII when the area was bustling as a refuge for those facing incarceration in other parts of the county.

Then, in the late 1960’s, Utah’s government demolished Japantown, through a process known as eminent domain.

Eminent domain is the inherent power of a governmental entity to take privately owned property and convert it to public use.

Ironically, the reason for the teardown was for a failed Olympic bid — anchored by a stadium built in the 70’s — that stood until 1994 where the Salt Palace is now.

SLC Council briefed on Japantown’s existing plans

On Tuesday, the Salt Lake City council got an update on a years-old existing plan to rebuild this area. The plans to update the street have not gotten off the ground, mainly due to funding.

“[Construction right now] is something that the city could theoretically do. But I’m hopeful that we have a bigger conversation of what’s the future of Japantown,” said Salt Lake City Council member Darin Mano before the meeting.

He says the wounds are fresh for people who lived Japantown’s history.

“My hope is that we can dust off that plan and figure out how to fund it,” Mano said. And in light of new plans to reimagine downtown, he shares Iwamoto’s goal of preserving the street.

In fact, he says if the plan doesn’t include that, he says that’s a deal breaker for him to support raising taxes in Salt Lake City.

“If we can if we can fold Japantown into this vision of a better downtown and a sports entertainment district and all three of those things can happen simultaneously, I’m very open to however we need to fund that. Those are those are huge goals that I would support, but it’s how we balance those three goals,” he said.

And the importance of the decisions on how the reinvestment happens are not lost on him.

”Depending on the way that this happens, I could look back and this could be the most meaningful and significant thing I’ve ever worked on — or the most devastating,” he said.

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Japantown advocates push for preservation of downtown street amid NHL stadium plans