Urban Renewal fights urban change

ST. GEORGEThe owners of Urban Renewal, a popular retailer located in the downtown area of St. George, are worried about the future of their business and arguing for the preservation of the building it occupies in light of a perceived remodel planned by the store’s landlord, Aston Stow Company LLC. In what may be an attempt at a preemptive strike against the landlord, Urban Renewal has brought its arguments to the city, the public and the press.

Here’s what happened

Aston Stow’s manager, Brooks Pace, has presented concept drawings to officials of the City of St. George contemplating a redevelopment of the property that could create a three-story complex, with a parking structure in the back on property owned by the city.

The current tenant, Urban Renewal, started by Jenny Larsen and her mother as a tiny shop alongside other tenants in the building, now occupies the entire building along with Hush Hub Salon.

The building sits at the corner of St. George Boulevard and Main Street where it once housed J. C. Penney. It is a 16,000-square-foot art deco building, built in the early 1930s and recognized as a significant historic building by the city’s Historic Preservation Committee, on which Pace sits as a member.

According to a memorandum of lease recorded against the property, Urban Renewal’s current lease for the space is a 20-year lease beginning November 2012.

“We have a 20-year lease, and for the first five years we have the building free of any interference,” Larsen said. “The only way our lease can be voided is under a demolition clause.”

When Larsen learned of Pace’s redesign plans, she explained to him that she and her employees care about the building and keeping it preserved, she said, and he informed her that he had already taken it to the city who supported his idea.

So, Larsen took her objections directly to the city not withstanding her contract is with her landlord.

“This is an issue between property manager and tenant,” Assistant to the City Manager Marc Mortensen said. “So far all the city has seen is a drawing, given to us by the property owner, no other action has been taken.”

City officials did meet with Pace, Mortensen said. In the meeting, Pace showed them conceptual drawings of the proposed project. He said he felt the meeting was to simply let the city know what Pace was thinking about doing.

Larsen then met with City Manager Gary Esplin and Mortensen. She found that both Esplin and Mortensen praised the project, she said, and told her that the project had been shown to the City Council and the council is trying to find funding for the parking garage.

“A meeting was held with Mrs. Larsen,” Mortensen said. “When she asked what we thought of the project, it was generically mentioned that we liked the concept, if the property owner decided to proceed.”

The concept drawing was presented at the end of an open session of council as part of a report given by the city manager as to what had occurred during the period between council meetings, Mortensen said. No action was or could have been taken as no application, no plans, have been submitted. If such a project were to come to pass, parking would be an issue the city would need to address.

Larsen’s fight

“The city might be in for a fight,” Larsen said in a press release Monday, and: “We would be forced to go out of business if this project were to move forward.”

“These plans are like a cancer,” store manager Armando Valdez said. “We’re lucky we caught it early. Now its time to fight for our lives.”

Urban Renewal started a petition drive and is working to get the word out about what it calls in its press release “the city’s plans.” It is attempting, it said, to “garner enough outcry that the city might relent.”

But the city has not brought forth plans for the privately-owned property. While it could frustrate a proposed project if it denied an owner’s plans, no development plans have been submitted to the city in this instance, only the conceptual drawings in Pace’s meeting with officials.

Larsen’s campaign aims at the city’s authority to disallow a development plan. She argues for preservation of the building as historical, and appeals to the public to help make her voice heard.

“Today we submitted to the city 546 signatures, with more to tally, that have not been submitted,” Larsen said on Thursday. “We are estimating over 700 signatures so far.”

Historical preservation

For Larsen, defending her leasehold is about more than just resisting something that might interrupt her flow of business. It’s about her eye for character and history, not unlike her store’s offerings.

Urban Renewal, by Larsen’s description, “defies explanation; think department store meets trendy antique store with vintage clothes and vinyl records to boot.”

It brings together modern and retro, transforming old and used into an assortment of kitsch and shabby chic, with a smattering of new. Larsen is a masterful merchandiser with an eye for design, repurposing the unexpected into feature decor.

And so her eye sees value in a structure where another might just see an old building.

“We are in the business of helping people recognize and appreciate beautiful things,” Larsen said in Monday’s press release. “I think, if given the chance, we can help the city see the value in keeping our building around.”

Referencing what she described as an ill-fated 1987 law designed to stop the destruction of St. George history, Larsen said one needs only to look at pictures of the historic district of downtown St. George from 25 years ago to see many buildings and rows of retailers that have not been protected. Or, she said, walk through the district to see examples of buildings that were allowed to be built even though they are clearly not in keeping with the scale and historic character of the area.

As examples of what Larsen called painful demolitions, she said that prior to 1987, Big Hand Café at the corner of Main Street and St. George Boulevard was torn down. It’s sign with a large hand pointing to the door was nearly the icon of the city, and a stopping point for all. Also lost was the Carnegie Library torn down in 1981, among other old buildings.

Larsen prepared her own “white paper” for preservation of the building for submission to the city, linked here:  Urban Renewal’s Recommended Updates to St. George Historic District Protections.

Off-hand, Mortensen couldn’t confirm whether or not the city had received the paper and wasn’t in a position to comment on it. He did observe, though, that the city is proud of its historical district, and has done a lot to maintain it. He said:

The City of St. George is a strong proponent of historic preservation. Since 1987 the city has been actively involved in efforts with private property owners and merchants to maintain a downtown that is healthy and vibrant. Over the past 30 years, city officials have put in place measures to ensure that new development and/or redevelopment is done in such a way to not distract from the characteristics that make the downtown unique from other areas of the community.

As examples of the city’s efforts, Mortensen said the city has invested millions of dollars in the acquisition, restoration and preservation of several historic landmark buildings, like the St. George Opera House, Social Hall, Pioneer Courthouse, Dixie Academy Building and, more recently, the Electric Theater.

“Over the years,” he said, “the city has formed pivotal relationships with other government agencies and private property owners to ensure that new development and redevelopment conforms to the historic look and feel of the downtown environment.”

Customer loyalty

Urban Renewal has earned a loyal customer base and at least one of those customers does not foresee failure as an option for the business no matter what happens to the building.

“I love Urban Renewal and shop there all the time,” St. George resident Kendal Fixal said. “However, I do believe in progress. I think that the owner of the property, once the lease is up, has the right to do with the building as he pleases. Urban Renewal is an amazing store and could survive anywhere.”

UPDATE June 2: On Monday, Brooks Pace, manager of  Aston Stow Company LLC and the landlord of Urban Renewal, reached out to St. George News. Pace said Urban Renewal had a position on their lease and he isn’t going to fight them on that position. Pace also expressed a desire to let the story die down, not wishing to add any further comment.

St. George News Editor-in-Chief Joyce Kuzmanic contributed to this report.

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2014, all rights reserved.

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  • St. George Resident May 31, 2014 at 12:56 pm

    I’d rather see a new building on that corner. St. George needs the facelift. I’m sorry but I have to say it. I don’t care what happens to Urban Renewal. I’ve had bad experiences with them being dishonest with commissions and I know that I’m not the only one. We need good businesses in St. George…not crooked ones.

    • BSMETER May 31, 2014 at 2:59 pm

      Good luck finding one. Business is 99% crooked. Another vacant “Blue Bunny” city owned building sure makes a lot of sense.

      • St. George Resident May 31, 2014 at 7:05 pm

        I don’t agree. Actually there are a lot of trustworthy businesses here in St. George, including other consignment stores. And when this happened I considered that it could have been an error. But the past few years I have mentioned what happened to a few other people around town and found they either had a similar story to relate or else they knew someone else who did. Speaking only for myself I just don’t trust them now.

  • Glock May 31, 2014 at 1:17 pm

    Lets be honest here. Its a 90 year old JC Penny building that’s been gutted out, in the heart of downtown St George. I’m all about saving history, but we can’t be saving every barn and shed just because it’s old. It’s not like some historic event took place there, or it has a rich history that brings visitors to town. Its a fire hazard that used to be a mediocre department store. Sure, great a new mom-n-pop shop is there, wonderful. Change locations for a while and when the new building is done, the property owner will grant you first dibs and a great rent price. A large shopping complex with equally adequate parking is a home run for everyone involved. Multiple businesses all together encourages higher crowds of people to come. Especially in a great location. Okay so you lose the idea that your renewal store is in a renewed building. Hang up some pictures of asbestos, and building fires to remind people of the good ol days. Sheesh, is this really that big of an issue!? If my landlord told me he wanted to tear down my house and build me a bigger better more efficient one I’d be happy to hear it. Whats the phrase, biting the hand that feeds? Gimme a break.

  • Rtylers May 31, 2014 at 1:30 pm

    I love all the talk of keeping the historic nature of the building while they painted the outside flat black which completely goes against and covers up the art-deco historic look of the building. This business wants to keep the older building to keep rent lower the owner would not be kicking them out but expanding the building and creating growth. St. George downtown needs to be worked on if we are to grow and have more opportunities to bring in and encourage more businesses.

  • Nykion May 31, 2014 at 1:33 pm

    So the Urban Renewal store is…fighting urban renewal. Sounds like the store owner should get on board with the property owner before it’s to late. It’s pretty easy to pick apart a building structure and get it condemned. Especially if it’s almost a century old.

  • Zeeyaz May 31, 2014 at 1:38 pm

    50% of your comission is given to Urban Renewal? (Fiancé was jipped from her artwork due to their horrible fees)

    Tear it down! Get something BETTER on that street!

  • Brett May 31, 2014 at 2:12 pm

    Sorry, but the contract is a contract. You signed it knowing that a demolition clause is included. Trying to get the city to circumvent that shows a severe lack of good faith on your part. I’m not a fan of tenants acting like they actually own the building.

  • Kara Clark May 31, 2014 at 2:13 pm

    I have found Urban Renewal such a bright spot in the retail doldrum of St. George! The owner has a beutiful eye for treasures, old, new, and repurposed! The building is well maintained, certainly not an eyesore. I look forward to a visit to the shop as often as I can!!

  • St George Resident May 31, 2014 at 2:42 pm

    I like the preservation of Old town Historic St George. I hope they can work it out, I do , however, have to say, that I DO NOT like the all black building, it’s just too dark for our hot community, other than that , I have no problem with Urban Renewal, it does seem to go along with the theme of HISTORIC DISTRICT

  • Maudie Fricker May 31, 2014 at 2:52 pm

    I used to shop there often…til it got so junked up and way overpriced.

  • Cathy Burrows May 31, 2014 at 3:40 pm

    Everyone who I have met visiting Southern Utah traveling North, South, East or West knows of Urban Renewal. It is truly a jewel, not seen in other states. Those who visit find a way to take a treasure bought at Urban Renewal, back to their home. The fun of purchasing unique gifts for others has been one of my favorite pastimes at Urban Renewal.
    Many of us have always wondered if other retail stores in St. George feel threatened at the success Urban Renewal continually garners.
    Please keep this wonderful business right where it is!

  • Yo Crybaby May 31, 2014 at 3:49 pm

    St. George resident I say your partner and they need a facelift, but I think you should stay with them. Even though they’ve done me wrong. They weren’t on a commission but they did charge me.

  • Zeke May 31, 2014 at 4:26 pm

    That building turned out really ugly after their paint job and funny lettering idea. Almost anything would help that corner.

  • Maggie May 31, 2014 at 5:35 pm

    I wonder if I am the only one that moved here and fell in love with this older section of St George. I love to go “downtown” to eat ,relax and show it off to out of town visitors. I was sad when we lost the old book store . I love these old buildings and was happy when they at least made the court hose look old. Everybody I know loves Urban Renewal, well maybe not that color but the store and the old building. Do not be so quick to destroy this treasure. It is unique as is St George. We are not Las Vegas or Salt Lake and frankly I do not want to be.

  • Bree May 31, 2014 at 7:44 pm

    I have been a long time shopper at Urban Renewal so I can say I know just about every square inch. The building is in desperate need of repair and needs to be remodeled. The cool items inside just don’t cover up the fact the store is falling apart. It’s a hip place to shop and very avant garde. But, I think it’s time to make improvements and go with the flow while attracting more business and tourist to downtown SG. What’s wrong with a win/win?

  • Eric Martin May 31, 2014 at 7:56 pm

    Looks like the lessor needs to work this out with his landlord. Guaranteed that there is a clause in the contract that could put them out of the building. Not a smart move to piss them off.

  • Sunny May 31, 2014 at 8:17 pm

    I would love to see a new new building with good parking replace the structure Urban Renewal rents. Urban renewal is an eyesore to me. I drive by each day as I go about my day and have wished that they would go away. It makes the downtown SG corner look like a junk yard. Plus it would be amazing to get a brewery and other cool stores into the area. If Urban Renewal is as sought after as they claim, they should have no problem with their clientele following them somewhere new. I truly hope the city allows the structure to go in to beautify and create more value for our area.

  • zzzz June 1, 2014 at 12:35 am

    its nasty, tear it down NOW!

    • skip2maloo June 1, 2014 at 4:52 pm

      Indeed! And while you’re at it, raze the whole backward a** (editorial ellipsis mine), inbred town and start all over! Nothing like a fresh beginning, eh?!

      • Joyce Kuzmanic June 1, 2014 at 6:35 pm

        Ha, Skip2 – you making a run on my job? LOL

  • Anon June 1, 2014 at 1:46 am

    I happen to like the grey paint — almost any hue would be better than the boring shades of dirt brown the whole city seems to favor. The problem with much of the redevelopment that has occurred downtown is that the rents often become more than the non-professional tenants can afford. Many of the businesses downtown that contribute most to the character and flavor of the historic district are in the older buildings. And while the city has done a commendable job preserving the Opera House and other buildings in the historic district, in some sense they are now “dead” buildings, city owned and operated, closed to the thriving creativity that unfettered entrepreneurship can provide to the community. The Electric Theater stands to become another stolid, unimaginative symbol of mummified pioneer culture, it’s heart wrung dry. The downtown area doesn’t need another ugly character-killing parking garage with attached high-rent office space to be filled with attorneys, realtors and bankers. Nothing against those businesses, but without retail, restaurants and other non-professionals they don’t make downtown an exciting destination, a reason to get off the freeway and go for a walk. I wish the people with the money and the power to make decisions had any sense of this. While the owners seem a little crazy in how they are handling this issue, Urban Renewal is an anchor store that the downtown can’t afford to lose.

    • Bender June 1, 2014 at 2:59 pm

      “Mummified pioneer culture” – well said. If the city/county/state builds another faux pioneer structure I’ll slit my wrists. The downtown Zions bank, new courthouse, St. George City Library and WCSD headquarters are tacky imitations which do no credit to the wonderful pioneer structures they attempt to honor.
      Riffing on Wallace Stegner’s desire that we create “a civilization to match our scenery”, I wonder if SoUtah will ever develop an architectural aesthetic to match its landscape. It’s a presently a barren wasteland of kitsch.

  • Shoppper June 1, 2014 at 11:51 am

    Urban Renewal is WAY overpriced on most of it’s items. Every time I saw something I liked I did not buy it…prices were jacked up for used items.

  • CharlieP June 1, 2014 at 2:03 pm

    Urban Renewal is a glorified yard sale. Their items displayed outside the store look junky and the color they painted the building actually made it look worse.
    I’ve been in this store once, and will never go back, nor will I recommend it. The owner, her mother, and their employees are snooty and could use a ton of lessons in customer service.
    If you want repurposed junk, check the Pioneer Shopper for yard sales. Get them out of that space, rebuild the building, and get something new and nice in there. Not everyone likes looking at crap on the sidewalk.
    Jenny, good luck with your fight. You signed the contract and your trying to go back on it shows your true and fake character. I hope you lose!
    To the owner of the building, great job being forward thinking and making plans for a nicer, better accessible, and larger building to occupy this corner. I’m on your side!

  • BoB June 2, 2014 at 12:51 am

    Oh my GOD!!!!! Are St. Georgians COLOR BLIND?!!! IT’S GRAY, CHARCOAL GRAY at most. Black? Really???!!!

  • Tyler June 2, 2014 at 12:54 am

    I’d like to see shining, modern glass marvels of high rises come in so our downtown actually had somewhat a skyline, and to get away from that god-awful pioneer red brick. Even Ogden and Provo, both close toour size, have high rises in their downtown districts.

  • nate June 2, 2014 at 2:05 am

    I LOVE the new library, courthouse, WCSD building and Zions Bank. The beautiful red sandstone, in the historic district, is truly a tribute to the history of the area. Everyone I know loves the earth tone reds of the downtown buildings. It makes St. George downtown unique.

    Urban Renewal ruined that building painting EVERYTHING black! I’m all for more parking and something new on that corner. The spectrum shows an artist renditions of the new building… looks awesome. Eating area on the roof top and preserving the historical look of parts of the building.


    Give the whole block a face lift and relocate the DI to that spot. It would be just like Urban Renewal….but cheaper.

  • My Evil Twin June 2, 2014 at 10:28 am

    Seems to me like downtown is no place for a junk shop. Put in a building with decent architecture and a business with class there. Or tear the whole doggone thing down and put in a parking lot.
    I really get quite a kick out of “preserve historic downtown St. George!” I wonder just how many of remember just how run down and junky a lot of “historic downtown” used to be. Particularly like the cafe at Ancestor Inn and Famous Dicks. 🙁

  • Observer June 6, 2014 at 11:10 am

    I’ve consigned with Urban Renewal for 13 years. I have been paid the 10th of every month and never been cheated out of one penny!
    Urban Renewal presented over 1200 signatures to the City Council (in one week) to save the JC Penny building and the buildings in historic downtown St. George. Pace said it’s 5/1 in favor of tearing it down. It’s amazing how Eric and Jenny have worked so hard and spent thousands of dollars to create a fun store in the Historic Downtown. Sure wish Pace could think with his heart instead of his check book!

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