Salt Lake City officials celebrate new safety improvements at Pioneer Park – Salt Lake Tribune

Salt Lake City officials celebrate new safety improvements at Pioneer Park - Salt Lake Tribune
A long time coming: Salt Lake City celebrates Pioneer Park renovations
Construction on the park upgrades began last summer in an effort to enhance security in the park, which is located less than a mile from The Road Home emergency homeless shelter in the Rio Grande neighborhood and has long been seen as a hub for illegal activity and drug use.

The total cost for improvements was just under $1 million, with $300,000 provided by the Pioneer Park Coalition, which advocates for the downtown neighborhood, and the rest coming from the citys capital improvement program and the Redevelopment Agency, according to the city.

Together weve finished the first step of this project, Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski said at a news conference at the park Tuesday evening as children kicked a soccer ball around on the new field behind her. With an additional $3.4 million of city funding recently approved, we have the opportunity to make Pioneer Park what it should be: Salt Lake Citys premier urban core green space.

The issue of religion — and bigotry — came to light last week when Rocky Anderson, a former Salt Lake City mayor, posted on Facebook that Salt Lake residents are threatened with the prospect of a Mormon mayor, (Luz Escamilla), who seems willing to do the bidding of the church, the developers, and the bank where she has been employed (and which employs so many elected officials — and not because theyre bankers!)

The council recently earmarked additional funds through parks impact fees for design and reconstruction of the park. While theres no specific timeline for those updates, they will need to be completed within a three-year timeframe created for capital improvement projects to ensure they are fully funded and built before costs increase.

Anytime youre talking about Utah politics, the issue of religion comes up because, of course, that tends to be one of the big themes in an awful lot of Utah politics, Burbank said. In particular, it comes up in the mayors race because the mayor in Salt Lake City is one of those very few positions, even though its formally non-partisan, that has by and large been dominated by Democrats over time.

Specifics for the next phase of changes to Pioneer Park will be informed by public engagement, said Lisa Shaffer, the citys director of Public Services. But a draft proposal calls for an estimated $1,500,000 for restrooms, an information kiosk and park host station, and historical interpretation signs and concessions. Around $1,000,000 could be used for food truck access and to facilitate opportunities for event programming like local music, yoga and fitness events, and arts and cultural activities.

Those future additions will work together well with the amenities dedicated today, Salt Lake City Council Chairman Charlie Luke said at the news conference.

Its a very tricky issue, he said. I think for both of them, they would prefer not to be dealing with this type of issue. It can very easily go badly wrong. Either candidate could possibly have this be seen as a mark against her, and thats absolutely something you have to pay attention to when running for office when its probably going to be a very close race.

As part of the updates to the park unveiled Tuesday, the city removed the existing bathrooms, which have been long out of commission and took out existing trees within the project area, which were in poor health and were a species thats susceptible to disease. Two-dozen sycamore trees were planted to ring the new field, and a new irrigation system will keep them healthy, Biskupski said.

Mendenhall said as mayor, shed still be an effective partner with the church, even if shes not a member — noting Salt Lake City officials worked with the church when siting one of the new homeless resource centers, and the church donated the old Deseret Industries building on 131 E. 700 South, which has now become the Geraldine E. King Womens Center.

Changes to the park come just weeks ahead of the upcoming closure of The Road Home shelter downtown less than a block away, which coincides with the opening of three new homeless resource centers, two in Salt Lake City and one in South Salt Lake, that will focus on providing services for the community.

And while Salt Lake City is known as a place rich with people of diverse backgrounds — whether it be race, political affiliation or religion — Salt Lake City isnt insulated from the significance of religious affiliation in a state thats largely dominated by Republicans and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

To kick off the Pioneer Park event, Biskupski kicked several goals against the professional Utah Royals soccer team goalie Nicole Barnhart.

Bowman noted the intersection of religion and politics doesnt only happen in Salt Lake City. He said other cities have similar dynamics, such as Boston and the Catholic Church. Additionally, he said Salt Lake City can be likened to cities like Austin, Texas, and Nashville Tennessee, as blue strongholds in otherwise red states.

The jubilee also featured vendors from the Tuesday Downtown Farmers Market, appearances from Barnhart and several other Utah Royals FC players, a community art truck that attendees could color and write within, historical pictures and information about the park on display by the Pioneer Park Coalition and a spikeball tournament hosed by the Utah Roundnet Association.

Anderson lashed back at Quist, accusing her on Facebook of taking the sentence out of context and factual errors, saying he never attacked anyone for her religion but hes rather pointing out that we dont need any more Utah politicians who do the bidding of the dominant church … or developers.

SALT LAKE CITY — City officials on Tuesday evening gathered to celebrate the most recent additions to Pioneer Park — with more changes to the downtown green space on the way.

Attacks on a candidates faith are beneath the dignity of this community and have no place in our politics, Mendenhall wrote on Facebook. None. Our community is welcoming to people of all creeds, races, and identities, and intolerance cannot be allowed to erode these cherished values.

The newly completed updates, aimed at improving safety and drawing more people to the park, include a multipurpose field, new lighting, a looped walking path inside the park, and two dozen Sycamore trees lining the sidewalk.

The nearly $1 million worth of additions, along with another recently approved $3.4 million in city funding, give the city the opportunity to make Pioneer Park what it should be: Salt Lake Citys premier urban core green space, Mayor Jackie Biskupski said at Tuesdays event.

For either one of them, this is something theyre absolutely going to have to deal with, Burbank said, noting the churchs headquarters is in Salt Lake City, its among the citys largest property owners and employers, and Salt Lake City is home to many of the churchs members.

Salt Lake City broke ground for the park renovations in August 2018. At the time, Biskupski described the updates as the beginning of a new era for Pioneer Park, a space that has long struggled with a prevalence of homelessness and drug dealing.

The social media jabs sparked by Andersons post are the first public displays discussing religion in the Salt Lake City mayors race. During the crowded primary, before Escamilla and Mendenhall narrowly rose to the top of a field of eight candidates, religion never surfaced as an issue.

On Tuesday, Biskupski said she envisions the multipurpose field in particular as an anchor in the downtown community, activating this space like never before.

In a city with a diverse block of voters within a state where religion has such a significant presence — and depending on who the voter is, religious affiliation can be seen as a positive or a negative — Burbank said religion is somewhat of a landmine for Salt Lake candidates.

The park has undergone decades of architectural, neighborhood, and social changes since it was dedicated 121 years ago, transforming and evolving over the years to meet the changing needs of the surrounding community, noted Lisa Shaffer, public services director for the city. Past features included a swimming hole, pavilion and baseball field.

Escamilla has legislative experience as a state senator and touts her ability to work with lawmakers on Capitol Hill while fighting to represent Salt Lake values, particularly for west-side and minority residents, which also reflects the district she has represented in the Senate.

Now, Shaffer said, Pioneer Park — the only park in our ever-expanding, increasingly-densified downtown core — must continue to evolve to meet the needs of a growing Salt Lake City.

Nearby, some vendors at the Downtown Farmers Market in the park said they were cautiously hopeful about the changes.

Yet religious affiliation is something Salt Lake voters care about, said both Burbank and Matthew Bowman, associate professor of religion and history at the School of Arts & Humanities at the Claremont Graduate University, and the Howard W. Hunter Chair of Mormon Studies.

Theres been a lot of gentrification, which is a good thing for this neighborhood, said Brian Watkins, who has worked at the farmers market for nearly 20 years. I think the park should reflect that.

Escamilla said her religion is a big part of my cultural identity, but noted that her track record voting on issues such as alcohol policy, medical cannabis, womens reproductive rights and others arent totally consistent with the churchs stances on such issues.

I think itll end up depending on whether people use it, Weeks said. If people like it and use it, itll be a good thing for the nearby businesses and the community.

The field and other additions cost just short of $1 million, with $300,000 provided by the Pioneer Park Coalition. The remaining funding came from the Citys Capital Improvement Program and the Redevelopment Agency.

The updates were the result of four years worth of community outreach and study, Biskupski said. Councilman Charlie Luke described Tuesdays dedication ceremony as a long time coming for the city.

The redesign process isnt finished yet. The City Council recently approved about $3.4 million in funding for more proposed updates to the park, which could include new restrooms, information kiosks, concessions, amenities such as a splash pad, and infrastructure to support musical performances and other cultural activities.

Going forward, Shaffer said city officials will be turning to the public for feedback to determine what exactly the next phase of renovations will look like.

Were excited to see this transformation, said Dave Kelly, public relations director for the Pioneer Park Coalition. Were excited to see the continuing steps … and to see where it heads.


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