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SALT LAKE CITY — Residents of Utah's capital city overwhelmingly accepted in this year's election a new $85 million general obligation bond that will help fund several parks, trails and public lands-related projects throughout Salt Lake City.
It appeared that the bond would pass when the first election results were posted on Nov. 8. Those results held up through the past two weeks of ballot counting. In all, a little more than 62,000 residents voted on the bond, with 71% voting in favor compared to 29% who voted against the measure, according to the Salt Lake County election results certified on Tuesday.
Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall, who initially proposed the bond in May, quietly pumped her fist in the air in celebration as it was announced the vote had formally passed. She points out that the final results virtually mirrored residential polling the city conducted before May, which prompted city leaders to put the measure on the ballot.
"It's a tremendous relief to have this bond with this much strength and support from our residents," she said, following a Salt Lake City Council meeting to accept the results of the election Tuesday evening.
The purpose of the bond is to speed up the number of parks and trails projects to meet growing demand in the city. The Salt Lake City Department of Parks and Public Lands found that there's been over a 40% uptick in park and trail usage since the COVID-19 pandemic.
The city is also growing, reaching its highest population on record in the 2020 census. Mendenhall notes that many of the new building permits support vertical growth through high-rises and larger apartment complexes. That means many people are moving into the city without much park space around them, and it leads to more traffic into existing parks.
A bond is essentially the fastest way to grow the budget to focus specifically on projects that build new parks and trails amenities.
"These are residents who don't have a front yard or a backyard. And a lot of these households have dogs, too, so we need space where you can conveniently and really have a good time getting out, connecting with community members, walking the dog, going for a run and I think the 71% voter (approval) on this shows that," she said.
Kristin Riker, the director of Salt Lake City Public Lands, said the department learned all about the growing demand while compiling its new master plan, which was finalized earlier this year after two years of feedback.
They learned that what people want goes beyond more dog parks and pickleball courts.
"The polling told us that people want our parks to be accessible, they want green spaces near them, they want trees, they want clean water and they want our parks to help contribute to the clean air," she told KSL.com. "That was the overwhelming response from the public."
Those results — plus the polling that found support for a bond — helped the city determine the types of projects the bond will cover. The bond will ultimately create new funds for other parks, trails and open spaces across the city. That includes:
- $27 million toward the creation of the Glendale Regional Park, which is the city's first regional park since Sugar House Park was established in 1957.
- $16 million toward contingency funding for any outdoor project in the city.
- $10.5 million toward neighborhood parks, trails or open spaces. All seven council districts will have at least one project funded with the money.
- $9 million for improvements to the Jordan River corridor.
- $6 million toward a new park at the Fleet Block property in Salt Lake City's Granary District.
- $5 million toward the completion of the Folsom Trail, connecting it with the Jordan River Parkway.
- $5 million for improvements to Fairmont Park.
- $4.5 million for improvements at Allen Park. The city, which acquired the park in 2020, is set to begin work on a management plan next year that will dictate future uses of the park space.
- $2 million for improvements to the playground at Liberty Park.
Now that the bond has been approved, here's what happens next:
The bond process
This $85 million won't immediately come to Salt Lake City Public Lands. City leaders will begin issuing the bonds in the next few months, which will begin to generate this money.
Funds will be secured through multiple tranches over the next two decades. Because of this, Riker explained that the city will go through a process to pick and choose which projects are funded first and which ones will have to wait to receive funds.
City officials said Tuesday that there will be some meetings between the department and elected leaders to figure out what projects to fund first and determine when bond issuances should be scheduled. The city launched a new website where it will post new details of the bond projects as they emerge.
What projects will be funded first
Projects that already have started are more likely to receive funds early on. These include the building of Glendale Regional Park and improvements to Allen Park. The department is relatively close to finalizing a master plan for the regional park, while Riker said a request for pricing is out for improvements to Allen Park.
The Glendale Regional Park project currently has $3.2 million in funds to work with; however, the cost of tearing down the old Raging Waters/Seven Peaks water park and remediating the land took a large chunk of that money. It makes sense to pump more money into that project now before the regional park opens in spring 2024, city officials noted.
The bond allows us to take care of some of the facilities that we have now. It also allows us to expand our system, so we can build it (for) all the new residents and the growth of Salt Lake City can be matched with additional park space.
–Kristin Riker, director of Salt Lake City Department of Parks and Public Lands
Department planners previously stated that the park will open in phases, and that's not expected the change even with the bond. But now that the bond passed, planners can start working on designing the next phase so that there will be more park amenities in the near future instead of sometime down the road.
"We will more than likely ask for the full amount for that project so that we can fully implement the construction and move forward with that project," Riker said. "We'll do as much as we can with that funding but it all depends on the construction cycle, inflation and where we're at with bids that come in for the project. ... It's going to take some time and the $27 million will not fund the entire planned project for the Glendale (Regional) Park, but it'll (fund) a good portion of what we're trying to accomplish there."
The department will go through a process of hiring consultants to help planners put together the remaining park projects that are slated to receive bond funding. Every project will then go through the same planning steps as the projects already in motion.
This includes proposed projects like a new park at the city's Fleet Block. Members of the City Council received an update on this project earlier Tuesday, where the Department of Community and Neighborhoods discussed the possibility of including a possible 3.6-acre park or plaza next to 4.1 acres of space that would be developed into other uses.
Other hurdles could delay some projects. For example, the Folsom Trail completion requires land agreements that may not be settled right away to allow for the completion of the trail to the Jordan River Parkway.
In short, it could take years for some of the projects to come to fruition. However, the bond potentially offers a faster timeline for these types of projects to be completed.
"A lot of the feedback we get from the public is 'take care of what you have now,'" Riker said. "The bond allows us to take care of some of the facilities that we have now. It also allows us to expand our system, so we can build it (for) all the new residents and the growth of Salt Lake City can be matched with additional park space."