Sandy, in Salt Lake County, Utah has a population just under 100,000. The city is developing a transit-oriented city center called The Cairns. It wants to manage population growth in the area while encouraging sustainable living, walkability, and environmentally-friendly design inspired by nature.
In 2010, Sandy designated an area of downtown from the Rio Tinto Stadium to the Shops at South Town shopping mall as The Cairns. It became a district with two modes of transit: commuter rail known as FrontRunner and light rail known as TRAX. The district has vertical mixed-use housing, retail space, office space, entertainment, recreational opportunities, and plenty of trails and open space.
The thousand acres of downtown was first adopted as a development plan in 2010, and in 2017 the plan was updated, which led to some large-scale development. “In the last three years, we’ve become home to about six national headquarters, including a couple that are international headquarters,” says Director of Economic Development Nick Duerksen. He is also the director of the Redevelopment Agency of Sandy City. The city partnered with Pacific Retail Capital Partners, the group that owns the Shops at South Town mall, to remodel the shopping and dining experience in Sandy.
In the near future, several more corporate headquarters are scheduled to open in Sandy, the largest of which is for Mountain America Credit Union which has built an eleven-storey, 327,000-square-foot office building that it will occupy and use to house approximately 1,700 employees. Right next door, is the Hale Centre Theatre. It has two theatres that receive roughly 450,000 visitors a year, and both have been sold out since 2004. The performances are done by a local theatre company that has developed quite a following and the Hale Centre Theatre now has 27,000 season ticket holders. It was built on property owned by the city, and the city partnered with the company to finance the project and build the theatre.
The main theatre is a nine-hundred-seat theatre-in-the-round, and the second is a 450-seat proscenium or thrust theatre. “The stage in the theatre-in-the-round is unlike any in the world. It was built by the TAIT company out of London, and it is a moving, three-dimensional stage that has the ability to take entire sets up and down during the performance through the floor,” says Nick. “The entire floor moves in dozens of directions – up and down, back and forth. It’s an amazing theatre to say the least.”
Sandy has targeted specific high-tech industries to recruit employers, and many of those businesses have thrived due to the move. For example, one company grew from fifty employees to nine hundred employees in its first five years of operation.
The Cairns district plan was originally expected to take thirty years to complete, yet by year six, the plan was already ahead of schedule, and the city was working through what was expected in the fifteenth year. “There’s been very few projects that have caught us off guard. The only thing that has caught us off guard is the rate of which the growth is happening, which is even faster than we thought it would be,” says Nick.
Utah is one of the fastest-growing states in the United States, and Salt Lake County is growing at an unprecedented rate. It has attracted high-paying jobs in the last decade and benefited from new markets. Fortunately for Sandy, it anticipated that growth and prepared for it with the Cairns plan to ensure it would be ready when it happened.
“Knowing the growth was going to happen, we could either let it happen to us, or we could plan for it. We decided to plan for it, and there were some incredibly smart decisions made around 2010 to 2012 that set us up very well for when the growth really hit, particularly in job creation and the housing boom to be ready to accommodate it,” says Nick.
The biggest challenge in Utah and Sandy is finding enough employees to supply the rapidly growing industries. An extra effort has been made by the school systems and the economic development team to assist with training opportunities to create more future employees for the types of jobs that are moving into the Utah area, particularly in technological industries.
Sandy partners with the local school boards, the state school board, the legislature, and a variety of nonprofit workforce organizations to form seamless working relationships that benefit the curriculum and the workforce. “Economic development officers are actually assisting school boards with the curriculum based upon the job growth that we’re seeing. In the case of Sandy, our local chamber of commerce has really invested in the education realm as it relates to job growth,” Nick explains.
Even though Sandy prepared for its growth and supplied a variety of options in anticipation, it can barely keep up with housing. Housing is being prioritized among local jurisdictions within Utah and at the state level, but more housing is required to make homes for the necessary workforce, and that includes all types of housing at different prices. As a part of the Cairns development project, the city added over four hundred affordable housing units for home ownership, multi-family rental, and single family rental. It also provided a high-end, multi-family rental building that looks more like a resort than a residential building. Diversity in housing and housing prices are critical components of the Cairns district.
Successful companies look for locations that have good education systems, great quality of life and a variety of recreational opportunities, which is why Utah has become such a popular destination for business. Sandy is a great location for business for these reasons as well as its relatively low cost of living, the international airport, and its commitment to mass transit. “There’s no other place in North America where you have a metro area, and twelve miles away, you have an internationally rated ski area,” says Nick. The nearby ski resorts of Snowbird and Alta, six miles up the Little Cottonwood Canyon, has the longest ski season in Utah and averages five hundred inches of snow a year.
Golfing and skiing are both popular activities in Sandy, and it is one of the few places where it is possible to do both in the same day. “It’s not uncommon in May that you can ski in the morning and play golf in the afternoon. You can pretty much do that from April all the way into June some years. Depending on the snow on the mountain you can do both on the same day,” Nick says.
Sandy is at the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon, and people from all over the world travel to see the canyon and the resorts on the mountain. Tourism is a burgeoning industry in Utah in general. “Southern Utah is famous for its color canyons and the beautiful rock formations like Zion National Park, but Northern Utah has become more and more of a destination, not just for skiing, which has always been there, but as a place for rock climbing, mountain biking, and a number of other summertime mountain activities,” says Nick. Sandy has become a popular place for well-known bike tours and marathons.
In the future, the Sandy region is expected to continue to grow substantially, and it has plans in place to support that. “In the past twenty years, there have been some very good decisions made knowing that growth would come. I think the commitment to mass transit, to housing, and to the education systems have all set us in a good position to deal with the growth that we know is going to come and will continue to come,” says Nick.