City evicts Pioneer Craft House, officials explain whyMay 26, 2021 01:25PM ● By Bill Hardesty
SSL evicted the Pioneer Craft House from the Historic Scott School property. (Bill Hardesty/City Journal)
By Bill Hardesty | [email protected]
The shoe dropped, or maybe it was a hammer, on the Pioneer Craft House on May 10. South Salt Lake initiated eviction proceedings to remove PCH from the Historic Scott School property (3271 S. 500 East) because they did not have a valid lease.
“I know that the eviction of Pioneer Craft House came as a surprise to some this week,” Mayor Cherie Wood said in a statement to the City Council. “But to those who have worked at or with the city for any period of time, it was a planned action that was long overdue—over a decade in the making.”
Wood continued, “As a city, our job is to provide quality and affordable services to our residents. In the case of the Historic Scott School Arts & Community Center, that means arts opportunities for all residents that meet their needs. We also have an obligation to our taxpayers to use public facilities in ways that benefit our residents. Pioneer Craft House has literally made this job impossible.”
“When we are in charge of taxpayer dollars, we have to be good stewards. We spend wisely, both in terms of our funds and our employee resources. So much money and time has been lost, and the time has come to put a stop to this,” Wood said.
The Historic Scott School was founded in 1847 when a two-room log cabin was built on the property. The intent was to use the building as a church, school, and community center. In 1890, the cabin was replaced with a larger brick building and named after the pioneer, John Scott. Over time, other structures were added. The Granite School District owned and leased the property to a local non-profit, the Pioneer Craft House, which has been around since 1947.
In 2007, GSD decided to sell the property. South Salt Lake expressed an interest in purchasing the site to expand its offerings to the community and expand Promise SSL afterschool programs. To facilitate the purchase, SSL entered into an interlocal agreement with Salt Lake County. The county would purchase the property from GSD using $764,000 of ZAP funds. The agreement stated that once the bond was paid off, the country would deed the property to SSL.
The bond was paid off in 2018. However, the ownership transfer took some time because of the creation of a historic preservation easement on the property. Salt Lake County has now signed all documents necessary to pass ownership to SSL.
In a prepared statement, the city stated, “South Salt Lake will make any necessary changes – to both the physical buildings and tenant mix – to ensure that the diverse residents of South Salt Lake receive the highest and best use of the Historic Scott School within the confines of the historic preservation easement.”
The statement continues, “We seek to provide programming and cultural opportunities that serve all South Salt Lake residents. South Salt Lake will expand arts and cultural programming that is affordable and accessible – this will include enhanced Creative Arts for Life programming for seniors and adults and Promise afterschool art programming that better serves the City’s cultural, financial, and legal requirements.”
May 12 City Council meeting
At the May 12 City Council meeting, Wood explained some reasons for the action. She explained the illegal lease that was given to PCH. A previous administration gave PCH an exclusive 10-year lease for 16,000 square feet of space for $1 per year.
“Obviously, this wasn’t market rate; this was a huge subsidy to the Pioneer Craft House and most importantly was in violation of State Law,” Wood said.
In 2011, the original lease was renegotiated, allowing SSL to start using some of the property for Promise SSL programs and allowed PCH to continue to stay. It also included a fair market value lease price.
“Unfortunately, Pioneer Craft House did not uphold its end of the lease and decided to stop paying rent,” Wood said. “Subsequently, they sued the city to stay in the building (in violation of the lease) and negated the lease. PCH violated the city’s trust repeatedly by not acting in good faith.”
The city offered PCH to become a city-managed 501c3 to release the obligation to pay rent. However, PCH refused and continued to occupy the buildings and operate programs, despite losing their lawsuit with the city and remaining in violation.
Another reason Wood explained was the cost to the city. It is estimated SSL has lost over $100,000 in unpaid rent over a decade.
“In addition, we have been tangled in an expensive legal battle, paid for by SSL taxpayers. City staff and leaders have spent countless hours on discussions and the legal response,” Wood said.
A third reason for the action is that PCH never shifted its classes or services to better welcome city residents.
“Their offerings were unaffordable and inaccessible to our residents and taxpayers who were subsidizing them to be there,” Wood said, “We reviewed the number of classes and students each month, and it was clear that our residents were not benefitting from the presence of Pioneer Craft House in our community center.”
A final reason is fairness.
“South Salt Lake’s relationship with Pioneer Craft House has been unbalanced and unfair to taxpayers and the community,” Wood said, “The organization has received benefits that far outweigh what they provide back to the city, in terms of paying rent, offering services that benefit our community, and advancing the city’s mission and the cause of arts and culture.”
Wood mentioned that the City Council has been ready to act but was unable until the property was transferred. Since the property was transferred during the week of May 3 and PCH was preparing to open after the COVID-19 closing, quick action was required.
The SSL Arts Council will move in and will offer affordable and appealing to the SSL community.
At the May 12 City Council meeting, 10 individuals spoke against the action. They were residents, students, teachers, and the chairperson of PCH. The city was accused of “not caring about Vets and the disabled,” “being short-sided,” “guilty of trying to reinvent the wheel,” “engaging in a land grab,” and “not willing to raise the PCH jewel.”
“I know we’ve had a number of years where we were not reaching a conclusion of how to have a longer-term relationship with the city, but we certainly have been available to talk about it, and I’ve talked to, I think all of you on the council about this issue,” Jeff Hatch, PCH Chairperson , said, “So, hopefully, we can move on, and we definitely will move on and move out of South Salt Lake.”
True to their word, as of May 19, PCH has moved out.
City Council Response
“I’ve been on the council, this is my eighth year, and so I’ve been a part of this process, and I really wanted a win-win. I appreciate the talent that you, teachers, have over there. The unique opportunities you provide. I was truly seeking a win-win,” Council Chairperson Sharla Bynum said, “But when I realized the tipping point was when we were in mediation, and we offer the Pioneer Craft House to become a 501c3 and to come up under the city and be similar as the Salt Lake Arts Council. When they refused, I knew that we probably could not proceed.”
“After years of its complicated relationship status, looks like now we can change it to a divorce, which I know it’s hard, but at least it’s a resolution,” Councilmember Ray deWolfe said, “And I do back the Mayor on this decision. I know it’s difficult, and I still think the Pioneer Craft House can continue the legacy that they’ve built. And if you have this much support, I think you can find another location to operate in, and I don’t think you’ll have an issue.”
The South Salt Lake Journal reached out to PCH officials for comment but received no response.