Utah breaks ground on $165M North Capitol Project as old state office building comes down

Utah Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, Gov. Spencer Cox, Senate President Stuart Adams and House Speaker Brad Wilson break ground on the North Capital Project on Wednesday afternoon. The project is expected to be completed by early 2026.

Utah Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, Gov. Spencer Cox, Senate President Stuart Adams and House Speaker Brad Wilson break ground on the North Capital Project on Wednesday afternoon. The project is expected to be completed by early 2026. (Carter Williams, KSL.com )


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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah state leaders left a legislative meeting a few years ago dead set on tearing down the old state office building at the Utah Capitol so they could build a new parking structure.

But something about the idea just didn't sit right with that plan, Utah Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, and Gov. Spencer Cox recalled as they stood in front of the office building Wednesday afternoon.

"I remember that day very well. It's emblazoned in my mind," the governor said. "We both said, 'What are we doing? We're going to spend tens of millions of dollars on a parking structure when there's so much more that we can do?'"

At the same time this was unfolding, state historians were pleading for a new building that could safely house the state's extensive history collection worth well over $100 million because its home inside the Rio Grande Depot basement just wasn't equipped for preservation. The demand grew louder two years ago when a 5.7 magnitude earthquake extensively damaged the building.

The collection was fine but it, along with the division, moved to a temporary location elsewhere while the historic depot is retrofitted.

Eventually, the plan for the space shifted to include a new state history museum that includes parking and state offices as a part of the North Capital Project. Cox, Adams and other state leaders convened at the Utah Capitol grounds Wednesday afternoon to break ground on the $165 million building moments after watching an excavator deliver the first blow to tear down the old building that it will replace.

Completing the Utah Capitol complex

The journey to the Utah Capitol as it is today wasn't easy. Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson explained that Utah state leaders had to rent out other buildings in its first two decades of statehood because it didn't really have a home for itself.

They even went to the people to fix this, placing a question on the 1911 ballot that would raise taxes to fund a building.

"It was soundly defeated ... it went down in flames," she said. "So the Legislature had to go to work and figure out how to fund a building like this with an eye to the future."

Not long after this, famed landscape architect John Olmsted ventured out to view the land Utah had in mind. He told state leaders they needed more land to really make something special. The state obliged and eventually, the Utah Capitol, designed by Richard Kletting, got the funds and opened in 1916.

The additional space made way for a state office building that came next in 1960. The east and west Utah Capitol buildings were then completed nearly two decades ago to fill in the remaining space as Olstead had envisioned.

However, since the office building didn't meet seismic standards, didn't have a fire suppression system and couldn't be reconfigured to address these needs, state leaders agreed in 2019 to tear it down. The state acquired an office building in Taylorsville to take in the offices vacated in the outgoing building.

Utah Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, Senate President Stuart Adams, Gov. Spencer Cox and House Speaker Brad Wilson watch as an excavator begins knocking down the old state office building at the Utah Capitol on Wednesday afternoon.
Utah Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, Senate President Stuart Adams, Gov. Spencer Cox and House Speaker Brad Wilson watch as an excavator begins knocking down the old state office building at the Utah Capitol on Wednesday afternoon. (Photo: Carter Williams, KSL.com)

The state also shifted plans as to what it wanted in a future building north of the Utah Capitol. The new building, Cox says, will complete the Utah Capitol master plan adopted in 2009, which calls for a new building with architecture and symbolism "in proportion and detail" as the main building, like windows, granite and floor alignment.

"We have a chance now to complete the master plan and fulfill the vision that previous Utah leaders had approved," he said. "This demolition makes sense from a financial perspective, a customer service-oriented standpoint and a public service perspective in that it will literally house our history."

Getting to work

Of course, it's not exactly easy to match the old Utah Capitol building itself because some of the materials aren't available anymore. In fact, Dana Jones, the executive director of the Capitol Preservation Board, recently toured a quarry in Italy that produces similar-looking granite because the original quarry in Little Cottonwood Canyon has been closed for a long, long time.

The European quarry is the same site that the state went to for the exterior of its east and west buildings. The new granite coming to Utah will actually be closer to matching the Utah Capitol than the sister buildings to the east and west, according to Jones.

An artist rendering of the new North Capitol Project building placed in front of the old state office building Wednesday afternoon. The new building is expected to be completed by early 2026.
An artist rendering of the new North Capitol Project building placed in front of the old state office building Wednesday afternoon. The new building is expected to be completed by early 2026. (Photo: Carter Williams, KSL.com)

There will likely be other constraints in the future, which is actually why Jones said she doesn't expect the project to be completed until early 2026. That estimate takes into account all the issues plaguing global construction projects at the moment, like labor and supply chain shortages.

Those delays will, however, put the building in line to open just in time for the country's semiquincentennial celebration set for 2026.

"To have the vision of this complex solidified is going to be amazing," Jones said. "It's truly an honor to be a part of completing that vision."

A home for history

Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, joked Wednesday that some people might be most excited about the additional parking coming to the Utah Capitol as a result of the project. But the biggest element of the project is Utah's history.

Henderson, who is among the state leaders who toured the Utah Division of State History collection when it was housed at the Rio Grande Depot, finds it difficult to pinpoint a favorite item that's there. It's nearly impossible, when the collection includes old artifacts tied to the state like pieces of the Topaz Relocation Center, thousands of art paints, small television tubes donated by television pioneer Philo Farnsworth and much, much more.

Yet most Utahns haven't seen this collection because there hasn't been enough space to display it in addition to the problems associated with placing it in a warm basement. The museum won't just hold artifacts from the past 175 years since pioneers arrived, it will also hold pieces from prehistoric Utah and from Utah's Native American tribes, Henderson said.

She hopes that once the museum opens that people, especially children, will be able to "see themselves reflected" in some part of Utah's past.

"They will be able to see and be inspired by the exhibits in a way that's meaningful and personal to them," she said. "I'm hopeful that we focus on our Indigenous past, on the incredible women's history we really have been focusing on over the past few years ... and, of course, we have people from all sorts of ethnic backgrounds who have contributed to the fabric of our state."

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Carter Williams is a reporter who covers general news, local government, outdoors, history and sports for KSL.com.

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