Salt Lake City's Gateway MallREAL ESTATE

Salt Lake City the rare downtown pushing golf in real estate

By Chris Baldwin,

Real estate agents are using golf to push a new building boom of condo developments in Salt Lake City, Utah. They're hoping the combination of the rare downtown with safe streets, good restaurants and solid shopping paired with easy access to golf will attract buyers.

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah - More and more people are moving back into cities across America. The trend became prevalent enough in recent years that it picked up neat names from sociologists like The Reserve of Urban Flight.

In Salt Lake City - the population center of Utah - it largely remains a myth, though.

People still come to Mormon country to get big houses out in the countryside - or at least big houses in nice picture-perfect developments. More than 1.2 million people live in Salt Lake County. But only 181,743 of them make their homes within the city limits.

"You just don't come to Utah to live in a city," local Lawrence Arnold said. "We're all about green grass, open fields and nice fishing ponds, not tall buildings, traffic and crowds of people. If we wanted to live on top of each other, we'd be in California or something."

That may be, but a good half dozen condo developments, and a few more under construction, are betting that there are plenty of people who would like to live in Salt Lake's downtown. Real estate agents are using golf to push these properties. The sales pitch is that Salt Lake City provides the rare downtown with safe streets, good restaurants and cutting edge shopping (for Utah, at least) that also has easy access to very good golf courses.

In most major metropolitan hubs, this is hardly the case. Trying to get out of the heart of Manhattan or the center of Seattle to a golf course can be a logistical nightmare that saps you of any potential joy long before your first tee shot.

In Salt Lake City, you hop in your car, which is likely in the parking garage right below your condo or loft, zip down the road and end up at a course that has mountain views like Bonneville in about eight minutes flat.

"There's no golf commute here," said Alice Waterson, a California visitor who's thinking of becoming a transplant.

Less hassle is one of the buzz phrases in Salt Lake City real estate. Many of the new condo buildings are close to the outdoor Gateway Mall and its run of shops and restaurants. The old school arena for the Utah Jazz - the only major pro team in the state - is another quick walk.

Overall, Salt Lake City is one of the more walkable cities you're going to find, with its downtown streets almost set up in neat boxes. The parking can be comically cheap for those used to major metro city prices: $6 for half a day in many spots.

Salt Lake City - NightlifeThere are signs that people are taking notice. The Metro Condominiums sold 69 of their 117 units in the first 10 days of being on the market. These upscale condos are going for a resident who wants an urban experience, heavily promoting the nightlife options downtown, including pictures on its Web site of 20-something women drinking in what looks to be a hip club.

Its Web site even has a remark about it only taking a century and a half for Salt Lake City to be all grown up. In other words, The Metro Condominiums take a direct shot at those Salt Lake City stereotypes.

"Most of the people who'd consider moving downtown are going to be out-of-towners from another state or young people who have their first real job," Arnold said. "Folks who aren't so committed to the idea of what Utah's traditionally been all about."

If you're not from Utah, the downtown condo prices are going to seem much more reasonable too. The upscale ones with features like nine-foot-high ceilings, balconies and gleaming steel kitchens typically start at around $200,000. You can get a less lavish condo in the city for around $125,000. In most major U.S. cities that would not even get you a decent sized walk-in closet.

The price of that convenient scenic golf also can wow out-of-staters. Forty dollars is considered high-end pricing in Salt Lake City golf. You can play the near crazy-tough Arthur Hills' design Wingpointe for $27 on weekends.

Upscale condos in Salt Lake still no easy ace

None of this - the downtown scene, the easy access to cheap golf, the Utah upscale discount - makes Salt Lake City's new condo push anything close to a sure thing, however. Fewer than 200,000 people out of a population of 1.2 million living in the city speaks for itself.

Condo BackyardAnd while the nationwide downturn in the housing market has hit Utah far less than most states, the area where it's impact has been most felt here is in higher-end properties. Almost all of these new downtown condos are aiming for the upscale consumer too.

It's a volatile world, one where every perk could be the potential difference between a sellout and a building full of empty apartments. You don't often see golf access touted as a selling point for downtown condos anywhere.

Is Salt Lake City crazy like a fox or just plain crazy desperate?

Time will tell as this city attempts to become something more than just a work center. If it works, Salt Lake City could become a model for other mid-sized downtowns with nature around them. If it doesn't, there are going to be a lot of nice buildings near good golf with almost no one in them.

Even the locals are curious about which way it will go. The building boom driven by the 2002 Winter Olympics is over. Will progress go on? Do they want progress to go on?

"The next five to 10 years are really going to determine what kind of city Salt Lake City turns out to be," Arnold said.

September 26, 2007

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management. The information in this story was accurate at the time of publication. All contact information, directions and prices should be confirmed directly with the golf course or resort before making reservations and/or travel plans.

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