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Smith’s offers details on Marketplace plan in Heber City

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Ben Lasseter/KPCW
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A Smith’s Marketplace in Heber City has been a topic of discussion for years, and on Tuesday, the Heber City Council heard a proposal from the store.

 

  

 

    

The city has a lot hanging in the balance over whether a Smith’s Marketplace comes to town. It would be the first major component of an economic development project to build up the downtown and generate new tax dollars there.

Smith’s wants to move forward, and a development project called New London has a plan to build a Smith’s Marketplace on the north end of town, along with over 550 new homes and a separate commercial area. 

Council members said they wanted to make it happen, too, and agreed some aspects of the proposal seemed fair.

But when they heard Smith’s wants an answer in two weeks, council members balked.

“Smith’s is the one who wants these things, but the city’s being asked to pay for them,” Councilman Ryan Stack said. “Knowing how important all of this is to Smith’s, how come we’re not hearing and having this conversation two or three months ago? And now it’s coming to us as a fire drill.”

The Smith’s would be in a zone that the city has designated as a community reinvestment area, or CRA. That means the city could use a big chunk of new tax revenue from the Smith’s to reinvest in other projects downtown.

Randy Sant, a consultant for the developer, told the council Smith’s wants the city to pay for about 60% of the infrastructure for the project. That includes a new road off U.S. Highway 40 with a traffic light that would cost almost $11 million. Under the Smith’s plan, the city would pay about $6.4 million.

Stack says investing in the new road to bring the Marketplace to town could give the city the boost it needs to fuel economic development with the CRA. But city staff doesn’t have much time to crunch numbers and advise the council on what to do.

Sant said the Smith’s position is that it could open a store in most any city it chooses, and the city should build the road as an incentive.

“They’ve said, ‘We’ll buy the land, but we’re not going to pay for those improvements. We’re producing benefit to the community, and that should be part of the participation, in those improvements.’ Again, from our perspective, that’s going to the road and not to us directly,” Sant said.

Another concern is that the city hasn’t finalized all aspects of the CRA to make it a viable economic development tool. The plan requires the county, school district and water district to pledge a large share of the new tax revenues the CRA would generate.

The city and consultant agreed the deal to open the Smith’s Marketplace would probably fall apart if the other taxing entities don’t participate in the CRA. According to Sant, Smith’s is willing to move ahead with a preliminary non-binding agreement even without the CRA plans finalized.

Smith’s is asking the city to sign onto a memorandum of understanding, or MOU, by October 22. That would represent an agreement of each side’s expectations of the other, but not a binding contract or pledge.

“This is what a CRA’s for, and this is just the first one, the first piece of our CRA, the first project. There are more to come,” Councilman Mike Johnston said. “So, they’re putting 40% - with your numbers – 40% comes back to public infrastructure, city infrastructure, not Smith’s landscaping and Smith’s facades and stuff. This is a major transportation update for us, a critical piece of our transportation plan. And here’s a way to fund it.”

Council members asked city staff if they could review the proposal and advise them in time for the next council meeting on Tuesday, October 19. After they said that was doable, the council voted unanimously to direct staff to prepare a draft MOU for the next meeting, in time for the deadline Smith’s requested.