Sugar House Construction—When Will it End?

On a visit to the Sugar House neighborhood in late Fall 2023, I barely recognize the place. Highland Drive is reduced to a tiny sliver of one-way traffic and 2100 South is a maze of narrow lanes to allow for road work. The whole neighborhood has broken out in a rash of orange barrels, and the road construction is choking off the arteries to some of my old haunts—Black Cat Comics, Bruges Waffles & Frites, Pib’s Exchange—even the Utah State Liquor Store on Ashton Avenue. 

Months after the construction started in early 2023, the construction has claimed some notable casualties, according to the owners of local businesses who have made the decision to close their doors. 

I spoke with one of Pizza Volta’s owners, Martin Brass, who closed the restaurant after just one year in business. “I had to let go of 26 people,” he says.

Brass started out feeling hopeful about their location in Sugar House when they opened in September 2022, having heard nothing but great things about the area. But by October, a nearby under-construction residential building, The Residences at Sugar Alley, caught fire and burned for days. The fire and ultimate demolition of the building closed surrounding roads for weeks. “The fire and demolition basically put a hole in the middle of the Sugar House,” says Brass. 

It’s not the first hole to blight Sugar House. Back in the mid-oughts, the 2100 South and Highland Drive block was a row of funky galleries, a local coffee shop and an erotic bakery. A developer demolished the buildings in 2008, then the block lay bare for years when the construction money dried up in the recession. The eyesore came to be known as the “Sugar House hole.” Eventually, mixed-use developments filled the hole and life returned to that part of the neighborhood…until the fire. 

The foot traffic Pizza Volta had been assured in Sugar House never materialized in the aftermath of the fire. Still, they kept at it. “We finally were almost breaking even in March 2023, recovering from just being a new business, from fire effects, from a number of different things…And then the city rips up Highland Drive.” The April after construction started on 1100 East and Highland Drive, Brass says sales at Pizza Volta dropped 30%, even while the number of delivery orders increased. “So that told me people wanted our pizza. They just didn’t want to go get it,“ says Brass. 

Even longtime Sugar House businesses asked for the public’s help to offset some of the construction-induced losses. Kimi’s Chop & Oyster House advertised special deals on their website, saying “Sugar House construction is definitely a maze right now…Here at Kimi’s, we need your support more than ever because the construction is definitely letting us down!” The construction was so much of a letdown that Kimi’s could be looking for a new location, away from “the maze.” 

With multiple construction projects going on at once, businesses near 2100 South and Highland Drive, like Pizza Volta, felt boxed in. “[The fire] didn’t help. And then that gets exacerbated by Highland Drive’s construction” Brass says. “Twenty-first South had, I think, two lanes closed. And then there was more construction around the corner from us. One of the side accesses was under construction at the same time. We were impacted on two sides. I don’t understand that. I just don’t understand how that’s the best they could do.” 

The stated purpose of the construction projects is to support the Sugar House Business District by improving the roads and updating 100-year-old infrastructure. In the meantime, the Sugar House Chamber of Commerce and Salt Lake City leadership have encouraged residents to get out and support small, local businesses during the construction. 

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall even made an appearance at Pizza Volta back in July 2023. Salt Lake City also provides a Construction Mitigation Grant that gives up to $3,000 per business, for “small, independent businesses with less than 50 employees who have been adversely affected by construction,” according to the City. I’ve spoken with business owners in Sugar House who have received the grant but say $3,000 is just not enough to cover their losses from months of construction on all sides, impeding access to their locations. Is this the price for progress? 

For Brass, the biggest regret in closing Pizza Volta is not so much monetary as the loss of connection to the community they were trying to foster. The restaurant hosted regular “Pizza With A Purpose” events, where a portion of the proceeds from every pizza sold went to a local non-profit. Pizza Volta also commissioned a local artist, Josh Scheuerman, to paint an indoor mural of iconic Utah historical symbols, easter eggs and artifacts for patrons to search through and explore while they dined. “Actually, that’s probably my biggest regret of all,” Brass says. “This is his work, and it’s in this space that’s just now closed and people can’t see it.”

Sugarhouse Transformation Timeline

January 2008

Developer Craig Mecham demolishes the eclectic row of shops at 2100 South and Highland Drive to make way for a new mixed-use development. Lack of funding, amidst the Great Recession, delays project construction.

May 2008

The city orders the developer to landscape the undeveloped 2100 South property. The bare crater earns the nickname “Sugar Hole.” 

December 2011

The developer reports finally receiving funding for a pared-down version of the mixed-use plan.

April 2012

Construction begins on the Sugar House Streetcar Line (S-Line).

August 2012

More than four years after demolition, construction begins on the 2100 South and Highland Drive project, called Sugar House Crossing.

December 2013

S-Line opens to the public.

September 2014

With construction all but complete, Sugar House Crossing begins leasing residential and commercial units. This project, along with a handful of other planned projects, mark the beginning of a development boom in the Sugar House Business District.

Mid 2016

Neighborhood bar, Fat’s Grill, and Hyland Plaza, a small outdoor retail mall on 2100 South, are demolished to make way for future developments, including Sugar Alley. Two Granite Furniture warehouses are also demolished at McClelland Street and Sugarmont Drive to make way for the Sugarmont Apartments project.

November 2018

Voters approve an $87 
million “Funding Our Future” bond to pay for improvements to major streets, including 
2100 South and 1100 East/Highland Drive.

December 2020

Work is underway at the Sugar Alley construction site, a planned mixed-use building in between Sugarmont Apartments and Sugar House Crossing, on Highland Drive, as well as on a Park Avenue development on the old Shopko site.

March 2021

The former Snelgrove Ice Cream factory (2100 South and Commonwealth Avenue) is demolished to make way for the Sugar Town development.

November 2021

Alta Terra South, the first of two mixed-use developments near Fairmont Park, on the former site of a 24 Hour Fitness (1132 E. Ashton Ave.), receives approval from the city.

October 2022

The still-under-construction Sugar Alley is engulfed in flames and burns for days. Crews demolish the building and developers will spend the next few years reconstructing the building as originally planned.

March 2023

As part of the Funding Our Future bond, Salt Lake City begins work on Highland Drive/1100 East.

Coming in 2024

Construction of 1100 East from 2100 South to Ramona Street.

When Will the Construction Finally Come to an End?

In February 2023, the Highland Drive/1100 East Reconstruction Project began. According to the City, the project involves “Long overdue reconstruction of the roadway with added bike lane infrastructure and improved crosswalks and ADA access.” This project overlaps with multiple other ongoing projects in the area—including the 2100 South Sewer Expansion, 1100 East Improvement Project, 2100 South Reconstruction, which is scheduled through spring 2024, and a new apartment building project on Ashton Ave. At last check, a plan is also in the works to develop the old Wells Fargo site on 2100 South and Highland Drive. When will the construction end? At this point, there are construction projects slated for Sugar House through 2025.

Christie Porter
Christie Porter
Christie Porter is the managing editor of Salt Lake Magazine. She has worked as a journalist for nearly a decade, writing about everything under the sun, but she really loves writing about nerdy things and the weird stuff. She recently published her first comic book short this year.

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