The top Murray stories of 2019Dec 23, 2019 11:47AM ● By Shaun Delliskave
Senior receiver and safety Owen Madsen scored eight touchdowns in Murray High’s first five games, including two on defense. (Photo courtesy Mike Adams)
By Shaun Delliskave | [email protected]
Decisions—perhaps that’s the best word to describe Murray in 2019. Murrayites decided on new city councilors, large-scale commitments to its infrastructure, and decided to change its course on preserving its historic past. In the spirit of gauging these decisions, the Murray Journal asked Murrayites, in several informal polls, to vote on what they thought was important and what they liked or disliked about Murray this past year.
Biggest Murray Story of the Year
Murray’s Pick: Murray High Football teams’ success
Murray Journal’s Pick: Murray’s downtown development
Murrayites were seeking a feel-good story, and the success of the Murray High Football team led all story contenders this year. Cottonwood High’s team’s fortunes were exactly the opposite this season, with the team struggling to keep enough players to make it through the season. This year’s battle of the Salt Lake County midway was a Spartan demolition of a team they hadn’t beaten in decades.
“The football team reminds us all that even in the face of all other issues, we can all find something neutral to be happy for,” said Murray fan Paul Dodge. Unless, of course, you are a Colts fan.
After a quarter-century of fair-to-middling teams, the Spartans, under third-year coach Todd Thompson, captured a playoff victory over Skyline High, then were knocked out of the state tournament by Olympus. Thompson will be pressed to repeat the team’s success next year, as his senior-laden team will be graduating this spring.
The Journal’s pick for the story of the year is the growing development of downtown Murray. Mayor Blair Camp has continually presented a 1970s-era Murray Eagle newspaper article about developing the core of Murray between 4800 South and Vine Street on State Street. Five mayors and three newspapers later, Murray City has a plan, and dirt is being broken.
Budgeting $37 million in bonds for the new city hall, Murray will be paying off the lease-revenue bond for the next 31 years. The new city hall will include a new police headquarters and consolidate other city offices under the same roof. What won’t be located there will be the fire department’s command center, which will move to its new $6,333,000 home on 4800 South to make way for the city center.
In the past several years, the city has been on a buying spree, purchasing the historic Murray Mansion, Murray Chapel, Frankie & Johnnies Tavern, Sharky’s Bar & Grill, Hair Studio 48, and a haul of other properties. Poplar Street will disappear, while Hanauer Street will connect to Vine Street.
While the city’s plans include incorporating the mansion and the chapel into a public plaza by the new city hall, the city’s plan for the buildings lining State Street has become a cause of disagreement. The ongoing battle between historic preservationists and developers, which began with the proposed razing of several of the former Mount Vernon Academy buildings, headed north on State Street with the proposal of eliminating the entire row of century-old buildings for high-rise development. The whole west side of State Street between 4800 South and 5th Avenue would make way for commercial development that would have a condominium tower nearly as tall as Intermountain Medical Center.
Property rights versus community value played out in many Murray City Planning Commission and City Council meetings. Infighting between the city’s Community and Economic Development (CED) office and the Historical Advisory Board came to a head when the CED proposed sweeping regulations that would alter the city’s historic preservation regulations.
Property owners applauded the proposed changes at the Nov. 19 City Council meeting. Desert Star Theater owner Mike Todd stated, “Is this perfect? No, there are still some issues I have with it. But it is so much better than what we have now. We need to vote and approve it and need to go back… and surgically tweak those things one at a time.”
Susan Wright, who bought and preserved the Murray Mansion and Chapel, along with owning several storefronts along State Street, also spoke in favor. “There is only so much we can do with these old buildings, and they are still just old. We need to bring in nice retail so that we can bring in a nice business instead of bars and tattoo parlors.”
Preservationists argued that the city could preserve the historic buildings by offering incentives and working with property owners in the same way it did with Day Murray Music building. In the end, the council did tweak CED’s ordinance by keeping the design review committee for the Murray City Center intact and added language to encourage environmentally sustainable construction but did amend the historic preservation provisions.
Murray Journal ran an online poll asking Murray residents what they thought should happen with the Murray City Center District. Results were nearly neck and neck until Murray’s historic preservations groups rallied their followers to vote in favor of maintaining or at least keeping some of the historical buildings. Likewise, the same pattern happened with an online poll on whether the historic Mount Vernon Academy buildings should be preserved. The survey was nearly 50/50 until Facebook posts from preservationist groups encouraged their followers to vote to maintain them.
The poll indicated who was most motivated between developers and preservationists, but the question that remains is why Murray City is not conducting independent research on what its residents want on such a controversial issue.
Other stories nominated for the story of the year included the planned renovation of the Murray Theater. While the Murray Theater can be incorporated into the fold of Murray downtown redevelopment and historic preservation articles, it is unique as a venue that will function much like the Murray Amphitheater.
The theater will come under the purview of Murray City’s Parks and Recreation Cultural Arts Division. A grant from Salt Lake County will help restore the theater, but the city will have to bond on it to complete the renovation.
Murray was considered as a candidate to be home for a Salt Lake County performing arts complex, but the location was ultimately awarded to Taylorsville. Murray proceeded to fund its indoor performing arts venue and purchased the old theater. Murray will need to address one issue that has always dogged the theater: available parking.
In 2019, Murrayites took part in another poll at the ballot box. Residents in City Council Districts 1, 3, and 5 considered candidates to represent them on the city council. Murray voters decided that it was time for a change and ousted incumbents Dave Nicponski and Jim Brass in the primaries; Brett Hales ran unopposed.
The general election involved newcomers Kat Martinez and Jake Pehrson in District 1 and Rosalba Dominguez and Adam Thompson in District 3. Both Martinez and Dominguez out-fundraised their competitors, and in the general election, Martinez secured her district’s seat with 53.72% of the vote, and Dominguez won with 54.32% of the vote.
With their wins, they join Diane Turner to make up Murray’s first female majority on the city council. Dominguez is also the first Hispanic-American to win a seat on the Murray City Council.
Other contenders for the story of the year included the near-fatal shooting at Fashion Place Mall and the closure of AISU.
Favorite Murray Musical Performance:
Murray’s Pick: Firefall
Murray Journal’s Pick: Firefall
Murray City Cultural Arts ventured into new territory this year by hosting an end-of-summer concert by the 1970’s easy-listening group Firefall. While the group has not had a hit since 1980, the show was a ticket magnet, selling out the amphitheater—the reason it leads all other contenders in this poll.
If anything, this concert could prove to concert promoters that the Murray Park Amphitheater could bring in performing artists comparable to what the Sandy Amphitheater or the Kenley Amphitheater in Layton attracts. These venues have not only brought in popular local acts like The Piano Guys but also national artists such as Brian Wilson, Pat Benatar and Norah Jones. Artists like Jones actually seek more intimate venues to connect to their audience.
Murray has several active independent musical groups such as the Murray Symphony and Murray Concert Band that Murray City books for its summer concerts, as well as hosting the Murray Acoustic Festival and lunchtime and family concerts, all of which garnered votes in the poll.
Favorite performance (non-concert) event in Murray this year
Murray’s Picks: “Jaws” at the outdoor pool
Murray Journal’s Pick: “Little Women”
How confident are you to get back into the water, especially when the movie “Jaws” is playing in the background? Murrayites flocked to the outdoor pool in June to catch an evening screening of the 1970’s classic horror film.
Murray City’s Summer Movies in the Park series had two offerings at the outdoor pool, but for some reason, Murrayites loved very much the idea of swimming with a deadly shark over being charmed by “The Little Mermaid.” These two films were part of the outdoor cinema offerings that included “Mamma Mia,” “The Avengers: Infinity War,” “A Dog’s Way Home,” and “Bumblebee.” The non-pool films were shown within Ken Price Ball Park, with food trucks supplying the treats.
Murray Journal’s pick was “Little Women,” which was the final production of the summer season at the Murray Amphitheater. Although based on the 1868 book by Louisa May Alcott, the play is relatively recent, being first performed on Broadway in 2005. A new film version is currently in theaters.
Audiences to Murray’s production saw what director Jim Smith describes as, “…a period piece that has a very contemporary feel. Going into the musical, perception is that it is just another night in the park. However, the story will draw you in with excitement, thrilling storytelling, and songs you want to dance to.”