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Salt Lake City unveils plans to transform Ballpark area

Posted at 9:52 PM, Nov 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-01 23:52:23-04

SALT LAKE CITY — In the heart of the Ballpark neighborhood sits a home for the Native American community.

The Urban Indian Center has been operating in a building donated to the organization for decades. The two-story brick building features a medical clinic, offices, and event space.

Kristina Groves, the director of the Behavioral Health Program, described the Urban Indian Center (UIC) as a welcome place for people.

"You can come and get medical services or behavioral health services, or family and social services -- from community members that look like them, that understand their experience that grew up Native American," Groves explained.

She works in the behavioral health wing, which takes up half of the downstairs area. The other half is devoted to exam rooms and medical offices.

Family nurse practitioner Danielle Puri described how they provide health services and referrals for people of every age. Puri is part of a faculty practice division at the University of Utah College of Nursing. The partnership allows a team of U of U nurses to provide community care to UIC clients.

Just before the pandemic, they started focusing on expanding services and exam rooms.

"We've been seeing more and more clients coming back. People bringing family members," Puri explained. "And certainly, with the recent spike in COVID cases, that's really increased how much testing we're doing as well as the follow-up with people."

The busyness brought on by COVID-19 hasn't just been inside the clinic.

UIC executive director Maurice "Mo" Smith described challenges they've experienced outside on their property.

The issues are on par with what others in the Ballpark neighborhood have described experiencing a spike in over the last year: Crime, drug use and finding loose drug paraphernalia, and problems with human waste.

READ: Ballpark neighbors hash out crime concerns with police chief, sheriff

"I think what COVID did was accentuate it; it really magnified the issues," Smith said.

With safety a priority at the center, Smith shared that they hired overnight security.

Despite those challenges, he described his positive vision for the UIC's future, starting with a piece of property they purchased adjacent to their parking lot, behind the 7-Eleven next door.

UIC has plans for a new building, which will allow them to expand their services and offerings to the community.

That bright future is why Smith was excited about a new plan unveiled by Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall Monday, with the goal to revitalize the Ballpark area.

Mendenhall stepped up to a podium outside Smith's Ballpark, surrounded on each side by several renderings and plans.

"We're here to mark what is a significant milestone for Salt Lake City's Ballpark neighborhood," she announced.

She then launched into what's called the Ballpark Station Area Plan. It includes several components and ideas aimed at giving the area a boost and fostering a sense of community.

The mayor described six "big moves." First, she said, is the creation of a Ballpark Station Area Transit zone. Second, a reconfiguration of the Ballpark TRAX Station to improve access from the west. Third, she said, is improving 1300 South for pedestrians and includes new crossings to expand and upgrade the pedestrian street-level experience.

Mendenhall shared that the fourth "big move" is to create a sense of place around the baseball stadium in a way that positively activates the area 365 days a year.

Fifth, she continued, is to repurpose parking lots and other under-utilized properties to add activity to the heart of the neighborhood. Lastly, Mendenhall talked about investment in community amenities and greenspaces to balance the growth of the neighborhood with attributes that will improve the quality of life.

She gave a couple of specific examples of those big moves.

"We wanted to offer a glimpse of one of my favorite ideas in this plan, which is the creation of a festival street from a section of West Temple adjacent to the ballpark stadium," she explained.

West Temple would be temporarily shut down for events and community gatherings outside the ballpark.

"In order for us to address the need for indoor community space, I'm pleased to announce today that the plan includes the addition of a new Salt Lake City public library in the Ballpark neighborhood," Mendenhall then announced.

The crowd began to clap.

Mendenhall added that her staff will move quickly to identify and pursue a location for said library.

"I think the plan is very cognizant of the changes that need to be made, and how do we mitigate some of these issues related to crime trends that are transparent in the community," Smith said.

He added that to help mitigate recent issues, it's important to address housing, economic development, and healthcare.

As an organization providing healthcare to Native American clients, Smith explained that they are vested in the Ballpark area with over 40 years of history in that community.

They can't wait to expand their services, and he said they want to be part of the solution.

The city invited the UIC to be part of the process from the beginning, Smith indicated, and he has been able to share their expansion plans with the city.

He expressed appreciation for that seat at the planning table.

"To be respected enough to say, 'Well how does that work for your agency in fulfilling your mission?' So, we're honored by it and we support it," he said.