By Michael Evans
Results of a yearlong survey show strong interest in revitalizing the Warm Springs area west of Capitol Hill in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Sylvia Nibley of the Warm Springs Alliance spoke about the 500 responses they reviewed: “The thing that stood out for me most was that 93 percent say they would go there regularly to soak in the hot springs,” said Nibley. “Clearly, there is a lot of enthusiasm for bringing this place back to life.”
The Alliance was formed to protect the springs as a public space and preserve the old Children’s Museum/Wasatch Plunge building at 840 N. Beck St. Rival proponents for developing a private, upscale apartment complex abandoned the idea earlier this year.
Over 50 percent of the respondents to the survey said that there were no places where they experience community.
“I feel sad to see that kind of number,” said Nibley. “We have a large gap in our sense of belonging, and it’s a basic human need. Because we don’t have many gathering places where people go regularly to see people they know, with people they know, to places open to families and everyone. People don’t even know what we’re missing.”
Nibley adds, “Our culture has gotten so car-focused, so virtual, that there can be isolation and people don’t connect the dots.”
She also makes the very practical point that a growing number of local residents drive to Crystal Hot Springs in Honeyville, Utah, and Lava Hot Springs, Idaho, to soak in the mineral baths. Demand for health and wellness services is expanding nationwide, and a spa manager from Colorado communicates with the Alliance.
Architect David Scheer of the Alliance further elaborated on plans for indoor spa facilities, a large venue for events and plays, a healthful restaurant, themed gift shops relevant to the history of the springs (in collaboration with Ute tribal members), gardens, and outdoor pools joining North Gateway and Warm Springs Parks together. The Alliance’s business plan would assign concessions to knowledgeable independent operators.
A long-told rumor about the Wasatch Fault being unstable and degrading the concrete is completely untrue, according to every seismograph reading by the U.S. and Utah Geologic Surveys and the University of Utah.
“Reinforced concrete was a new material when the building was built,” said Scheer, “Mineral water contains a lot of Sulphur and Sulphur reacts very badly with concrete.”
Scheer further elaborated: “The first step before anybody can do anything with that building is to have a very extensive structural analysis done, where they actually X-ray the beams and columns to verify the location and size of the steel inside.” Scheer estimates the cost of the engineering analysis as “somewhere between 15 to 20 thousand dollars.”
Scheer projected a starting cost of $12 million for renovation, and spoke about raising money via “syndicated” tax credits and concessionaires, especially prospective spa owners, who can write off the cost of their own construction in the historical space. The Alliance is presenting a business plan for a lease, with step-by-step methods for implementation to Salt Lake City this fall.
The Golden Spike Train Club of Utah has installed 29 scale-miles of model railroad tracks in the building’s basement since 1984. They currently operate their model trains for the public on the second Saturday of every month.
“That site has been used since prehistoric times,” said Scheer. “Brigham Young took to the waters during his first week here. Salt Lake City’s first public transportation went to this site.”
Scheer also described his idea for an interactive “open design” meeting for the public in the near future to deepen public involvement: public perceptions are critical to public utilization of the whole Warm Springs area. The spring waters are NOT polluted by nearby industry or anything else, despite other false rumors. However, the reputation of Warm Springs as a haven for the unsheltered persists for good reason.
Sandra Hollins, who coordinates homeless services for Salt Lake City, spoke about public utilization as the key for eliminating transient camping in any given area. The city works with teams that engage with the unsheltered, offering help and resources. They include Volunteers of America, Fourth Street Clinic, Valley Mental Health, Community Connection Center of Salt Lake, One Voice Recovery, and the Veterans Administration.
The Salt Lake County Health Department oversees “sweeps” of areas near canyons, creeks, and the Jordan River, which includes outreach organizations and law enforcement, despite current understaffing problems. Each district has a detective associated with the Community Intelligence Unit — http://www.slcpd.com/community-engagement/community/
There was a major sweep in the Warm Springs area earlier in the summer of 2018, but its isolation and seclusion can still attract individuals “who don’t want to be seen or reported,” said Hollins. She is actively promoting a computer app called “City Sourced,” where citizens report problems on city property or in parks. All of the organizations above, and the police, are notified through City Sourced — https://saltlakecityut.citysourced.com/
“I encourage the public to call in and let us know what is going on,” says Sandra Hollins. Contact her at 801-535-7941 or .
Unlike Pioneer Park, there are no major homeless shelters immediately near Warm Springs. An active public presence made the old Wasatch Plunge a safe gathering place for families before the 1970s. There were well-known problems along the railroad tracks, but regular public attendance helped keep those problems away from the springs.
“I am not the only one who has been imagining the hot springs again,” said Nibley. “There are challenges, but they are not insurmountable.”