Intermountain Health unveils what it wants to do with old Salt Lake Sears block

Jun 12, 2024, 11:13 AM

The old Sears location in Salt Lake City is pictured Tuesday. Intermountain Health unveiled new ren...

The old Sears location in Salt Lake City is pictured Tuesday. Intermountain Health unveiled new renderings of its planned "urban hospital" to be built there during a Salt Lake City meeting on Tuesday, but it also faced pushback. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

(Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Intermountain Health officials have made it clear they intend to build an “urban hospital” at the site of the old Sears department store the company acquired nearly three years ago, but the project had been mostly a mystery up until now.

The health care provider unveiled several new renderings of the planned facility as leaders described their intentions to the Salt Lake City Council on Tuesday as it pushes for zoning changes to accommodate the plan.

However, city leaders voiced concerns with certain aspects of the plan that they hope are addressed before it moves forward.

“I’m encouraged to see the progress, but — as (my colleagues said) — we’re not quite there yet,” Salt Lake City Council Chairwoman Victoria Petro told KSL.com. “I’m hopeful for a very productive dialogue between (Intermountain Health) and the city.”

An urban hospital

Intermountain Health acquired the old Sears property, 754 S. State, in 2021, three years after Sears shuttered the department store that had opened in 1947. It filed a request to rezone the land from downtown support district (D-2) to a central business district (D-1) in late 2022 as it tore the old building down.

The rezoning would allow for taller building heights, while proposed D-1 zoning changes would make way for standard hospital operations.

The idea reached the Salt Lake City Planning Commission in March 2023 before the project went dormant at least from the public eye.

The last major public update came when the project reached the Salt Lake City Council over a year ago, while the land has remained dormant leading to all sorts of internet jokes. Someone even went as far as to name the block’s visible groundwater pond that formed “Sears Lake Seagull Preserve” on Google Maps.

A rendering of an “urban hospital” that would be located in Salt Lake City. (Photo: VCBO via Intermountain Health)

Behind the scenes, project officials were hammering out logistics to make the project work. That includes figuring out the internal flow of hospital operations through a vertical campus as compared to a horizontal one.

Intermountain Health spokesman Jess Gomez explained the hospital is a “unique model” for the health care provider, as it generally has hospitals in suburban and rural areas. It’s why the project has moved a bit slower than its other projects.

“This is really an exciting opportunity because downtown is growing,” he said. “I think we’re really excited about that opportunity and (we’re) just working through details that need to be made to make sure the community and the city are satisfied — and also to make sure that, first and foremost, our patients are well taken into consideration.”

A rendering of an “urban hospital” that would be located in Salt Lake City. (Photo: VCBO via Intermountain Health)

It’s unclear yet how tall the buildings will get on the block, but Heather Wall, president of LDS Hospital, estimates that it will go through a design review process, As such, buildings could end up exceeding 200 feet on the block.

But she believes the final design will be “complementary to the skyline.”

Beyond normal hospital functions, ground floor options could include a cafe, coffee shop, salon, outpatient pharmacy and art therapy spaces. The project also calls for landscaped open space north end of the block and a food truck pad.

The project would include about 1,750 parking stalls, most of which would be included in a parking structure built across Main Street from the facility, according to Intermountain Health senior director of real estate Bentley Peay. The structure is pending approval from Ken Garff Automotive Group which owns the land, but Peay said he believes a deal can be reached.

A rendering of what an urban hospital may look like in Salt Lake City. (Photo: VCBO via Intermountain Health)

The hospital would also be located near the 600 South TRAX light-rail station.

It’s unclear yet what the urban hospital means for LDS Hospital. Wall told KSL.com after Tuesday’s meeting that Intermountain is still reviewing options over what services the urban hospital will offer. It’s possible it could replace the hospital in Salt Lake City’s Avenues neighborhood or both facilities may offer clinical services moving forward.

Wall said that will be determined once the zoning changes are made. More concise planning is also expected to pick up once the zoning provisions are finalized, which will determine any construction timelines.

A push for more ‘activation’

However, getting the rezone hit a snag during the meeting. A few Salt Lake City council members zeroed in on concerns with making sure that the hospital fits with the rest of its surrounding area, including walkability and ground-level “activation.”

Councilman Darin Mano said he believes the design “falls a little short” of what the city is looking for, while Councilman Alejandro Puy said the design is “not quite there.”

“When I see the plan I see a suburban hospital with less grass and less surface parking,” Puy said.

Wall said the feedback provided “clarity” into what Intermountain needs to do to seal the deal. She hopes to get the adjustments hashed out in time for a July vote.

That remains to be seen. Petro said if the City Council is considering a July 9 public hearing and it may not vote until August at the earliest.

“I don’t want to carry this into the fall, but we don’t make a practice of voting on things that big the same night we receive comment,” she said.

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Intermountain Health unveils what it wants to do with old Salt Lake Sears block