Critics of Salt Lake City project say it threatens culture

By The Associated Press | Posted - Aug. 6, 2018 at 2:05 p.m.

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A group planning to revamp part of a city block in the heart of Salt Lake City with 650 luxury apartments, a hotel and space for retails shops is running into opposition from critics who say it would destroy what little remains from a cultural enclave known as Japantown.

The neighborhood where Japanese residents lived after moving to the region to work in the mines and railroad was mostly razed in the mid-1960s, but the Japanese Church of Christ and Buddhist temple remain, descendants of the original Japanese families said.

They're working to block a zoning change for taller buildings that developers are seeking, The Salt Lake Tribune reports .

Michael Kwan, a Taylorsville justice court judge and president of the Chinese Railroad Workers Descendants Association, recently outlined the concerns in testimony to the Salt Lake City Council. "Once you lose Japantown," Kwan said, "you'll never have it again."

The developer, The Ritchie Group, is hoping to reach a compromise so the project can proceed. Plans call not only for the apartments and hotel, but also an office tower and underground parking. It would be built near the Vivint Smart Home Arena where the Utah Jazz play and not far from Temple Square and two major outdoor malls: City Creek Center and The Gateway.

"We look forward to finding wins for them and wins for us, make the project work and still pay homage to their past and their great history," said Jayson Newitt of The Ritchie Group.

State Sen. Jani Iwamoto, a Democrat from the suburb of Holladay, told the council she worries that the new development will be a replay of 1966, when stores, markets, restaurants and pool halls that were the heart of Japantown were demolished.

"We hope you can understand and empathize with what this area — what is left of this area — means to our communities and to honor the past, to embrace diversity, to work with us hand in hand and not to repeat history," Iwamoto said.

The council had initially set the date of Aug. 14 to vote on the zoning change needed for the product but have instead opted to have more hearings and make more time for a decision.

Councilman Derek Kitchen, whose district includes the proposed development, said the delay will allow the council to monitor the issue and try to encourage discussions toward a "a viable compromise."

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