SALT LAKE CITY — A quaint and historic couple of blocks of downtown is about to get a massive facelift to become more useful for the large Greek Orthodox community in the area.
The Greek Orthodox Church of Greater Salt Lake kicked off the public portion of a major fundraising campaign on Saturday, during the faith’s annual Apokries celebration. The community hopes to collect $12 million to fund a new Hellenic Community Center to replace the one built 70 years ago. The remainder of the proposed $300 million project, which will be separate from the Greek Orthodox facility, will be financed through various partnerships.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Huntsman Foundation, the Mandarin restaurant owner Gregory Skedros, and the Pappas family are among the largest donors to what is being called the Cornerstone Campaign. The $12 million is necessary to begin the rest of the massive upscale renovation, which aims to “bolster the community and serve as the hub for Greek life within the state,” according to Holy Trinity leadership.
“The Pioneer Park district has been very depressed for a long time ... and this will completely resurrect the area,” said Demetrios Skedros, chairman of the campaign. “Thousands of people will be living here. They’ll be taking their strollers to Pioneer Park. It’s just what’s going to happen.”
He said it is important to replace and update the old cultural center, which was originally built as a memorial for Greek war veterans and contains a museum of Utah’s Greek history, a commercial kitchen and dining hall as well as Sunday school and multipurpose facilities,
“We’ve used the heck out of it,” Demetrios Skedros said.
The upscale renovation, to be built and managed by Salt Lake City-based Woodbury Corp., will occupy nearly five acres of church-owned land surrounding the 95-year-old Holy Trinity Cathedral at 279 S. 300 West. It will include skyways, bridges and open plazas, and will make way for more space for the popular Greek Festival, hosted annually by the Greek Orthodox community and congregation.
Utah’s Hellenic Community is one of the largest Greek Orthodox parishes west of Chicago and serves as an anchor for the entire Mountain West region, according to the Hellenic Cultural Association. It is the only parish with two churches, Holy Trinity and the Prophet Elias Greek Orthodox Church in Holladay — both are religious homes to what the organization deems is thousands of Utah’s Greek Americans.
“This development will allow a new generation of Greek Utahns the opportunity to build a legacy with the same immense impact as their forefathers,” the Holy Trinity reported.
“A hundred years of history has put us where we are today and we’re looking forward to the next 100,” Demetrios Skedros said on Saturday. In the two-plus years of the campaign’s “quiet phase,” he said it has amassed $7 million.
David Huntsman, president of the Huntsman Foundation, said their donation is “personal,” as his brother, Mark Huntsman, who is mentally handicapped and mostly nonverbal, “doesn’t understand differences ... but he understands goodness.”
He said the Greek community in Utah has been very kind to his brother.
“The success of the Greek community (in Utah) is important to all of us,” David Huntsman said. “We are happy to stand with you.”
In addition to new office space and a residential high-rise, the cultural center would be expanded to meet the needs of the growing Greek community, and adjacent buildings would welcome opportunities for commercial businesses, including restaurants, shops and a 150-room hotel. The project proposal, which would put a full-fledged “Greek Town” on the local map, also includes a large underground parking structure.
“We love the fact that there’s more to come,” Elder Craig C. Christensen, a General Authority Seventy and Utah Area President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said Saturday. “We love the people here.”
The massive renovation, however, will require the demolition of several very old, low-income housing units east of the cathedral, as well as destruction of several paved lots to the north and northwest.
Once funded, the project is anticipated to take about 21/2 years to complete.
“What we’re doing is for our kids,” Demetrios Skedros said. “We’re doing it for our children and their children and their children.”