Kimball move will be boost for Bonanza Park, loss for Main Street
May 19, 2015
As much as we would prefer to believe it’s not true, the Kimball Art Center this week began to release details about its plans to leave Main Street. The longtime cultural anchor in Old Town has sold its property on a corner of Heber Avenue and Main Street and will be moving to temporary digs on Kearns Boulevard in Bonanza Park.
It is a bold and controversial move. After as unsuccessful attempt to gain approval for a dramatic expansion at its current location, the art center’s leadership decided to pin its hopes for the future on a new location. While a permanent site has not yet been selected, the Kimball plans to move its popular classes to the modest building on Kearns Boulevard with the hope of being up and running by September. Also, the center will be remodeling the space, most recently occupied by a church group, to accommodate upcoming art exhibits.
The activity generated by art classes and studios could be a windfall for the area referred to as Bonanza Park. The commercial and residential district has been in limbo for years while waiting for an ambitious redevelopment project to weave its way through the city’s planning process. Welcoming the Kimball into its midst could be just the Bohemian boost the area needs.
But the Kimball’s departure from Main Street will be a blow to the commercial district — especially if there is a gap between when the art center moves out and the new property owners begin construction on their as-yet-unapproved project. As previously proposed, plans for the corner included high-end condos above a small collection of street-level commercial spaces. If the site is unoccupied, even for a season or two, the businesses below Heber Avenue, on the section known as lower Main Street, will be further isolated from the activity on the rest of the street. It is similar to the situation at the top of the street, where another high-end condo complex is under construction, prematurely bookending the commercial district.
The impasse between City Hall and the Kimball Art Center over architectural plans for an ambitious expansion is still somewhat of a mystery, with camps evenly divided between those who blame the city and those who blame the art center’s leaders. But with the sale of the building there is no turning back.
However, there may be a glimmer of hope if the developer and the Kimball can agree to maintain the exhibit space on Main Street, at least until the Kimball is firmly established at its new location and the developer has an approval for new uses for that strategic Main Street corner in hand.