The plight of Pioneer Park is familiar to many residents in Salt Lake County. The park is well known and enjoyed as the home of the Salt Lake Farmers Market and the Twilight Concert Series during the long summer days, but for the rest of the year it is perceived as being overrun with vagrants, drugs, and crime.
A new group has formed with a goal of cleaning up the park by working with surrounding business and community organizations.
The Pioneer Park Coalition, in an early-April press release, says “In a neighborhood in obvious decline, community members from private, public and social sectors have come together dedicated to the development of Pioneer Park and the surrounding neighborhood.” These private, public, and social groups include names familiar with many residents: The Salt Lake City Police Department, Iggy’s Sports Grill, The Road Home, and many others who are pitching in to find a solution to an area that has been struggling for decades.
The coalition formed when Garbett Homes purchased 4 acres of land just west of the park with intent to develop it as a “mixed use area,” eventually creating enough housing for up to 200 families. The company was denied financing for their project by several banks, because “criminal elements” were a concern for the proposed construction. Garbett Homes soon realized that it was probably not the only business suffering because of the deteriorating neighborhood.
According to Jonathan Harman, Director of The Pioneer Park Coalition, other business owners have expressed concerns that it is quickly becoming economically nonviable to continue to operate in the area—citing crime and safety concerns for both employees and customers for much of the year. Out of these conversations grew the Pioneer Park Coalition, which says it will take a multi-pronged approach to rehabilitate the park and surrounding areas.
One major concern is the prevalence of homelessness in the region. The Fourth Street Clinic, Road Home Shelter, Catholic Community Services and other services for homeless Utahns all sit within a block of the park, making the public space a natural gathering place for those using those services. To address this, The Pioneer Park Coalition would like to advance and promote the Housing First program—which would give apartments and social work support to those who suffer from chronic homeless. According to the Coalition, the model has been successful in other communities and saves tax payers large amounts of money each year.
Another approach to discourage criminal activity in and around the park is to integrate existing private security cameras and install new high tech cameras to monitor possible criminal activity around the park—helping law enforcement prevent and prosecute crimes.
The next approach involves upgrading the park itself. Harman notes that the city has agreed to tear down the existing bathrooms in the park which he calls “drug and sex dens,” and replace them with models similar to the “Portland Loo” models. These restrooms, through modern design, allow privacy but also discourage illicit activities.
Harman also says the city has agreed to move some of the trees in the park in the fall in order to make room for multi-use soccer fields and possibly a permanent stage similar to the one at Gallivan Center.
The Coalition hopes that with these initiatives beginning, and other future improvements, will encourage more year-round use of the park and create an environment that transforms the park and surrounding areas to be “family friendly.”
Concern does exist that efforts in the past to revitalize the area only resulted in the existing problems being pushed to other areas of the city. But Harman says that’s not the goal of the Coalition. “We want to help solve the general problems with homelessness. Fixing the homeless problem goes hand in hand with fixing problems with the park. It is not the homeless that cause problems but criminal elements that go along with homelessness.”