Murray Rising: 2024 marks a historic year of transformation and renewalJan 05, 2024 11:17AM ● By Shaun Delliskave
Plans for developing Block One (4800 S. State) are still on hold as a committee of residents and downtown shareholders make recommendations to the city. (Shaun Delliskave/City Journals)
With 2023 now in the history books, Murray City stands on the cusp of more transformative change, with multiple projects across different departments setting the stage for a modernized, revitalized urban landscape. The Murray Journal sat down with Murray City’s Chief Administrative Officer Doug Hill to get an in-depth look at the different initiatives unfolding within the city.
Former City Hall/Arlington Elementary Property Redevelopment Nears Fruition
The long-anticipated redevelopment of Murray City's former city hall property has now entered its final stages of negotiation with developer Triumph Group, Hill said. "We're at the last minute of negotiations," he said, conveying a sense of urgency with some City councilmembers nearing the end of their terms.
Slated to break ground in late 2024, the mixed-use project will encompass medical facilities, restaurants and residential units. "The initial phase would likely include a five-story medical tower accompanied by a parking structure," Hill said. Current ordinances restrict building heights, but Hill clarified that the proposed clock/observation tower would exceed this due to permitted exceptions.
Sprawling over six acres, the development encompasses several city-owned properties, including the former Creekside Alternative School and former school district buildings. However, Hill noted that it excludes some privately-owned establishments like the Fiiz soda shop.
In response to widespread curiosity about preserving Murray's heritage, Hill addressed rumors of reusing bricks from the original City Hall. "It's not a requirement from the city," he stated, indicating the decision ultimately lies with the developers.
Murray City and the developers have not firmed up anything about using the projects parking for Murray City events, such as Murray Theater performances.
Hill, backed by the Redevelopment Agency, projects that demolition and construction could commence around mid-2024. This follows the developer's completion of due diligence over the coming months.
Downtown Area Plan to Shape Future of Pivotal Block One
In contrast to the former City Hall site, the crucial Block One area (4800 South and State Street) currently has no concrete development plans. "There's been some ideas circulating about what to do with Block One, but nobody has taken that on yet," Hill said. The historic Townsend home, initially considered for relocation, will remain in place due to the prohibitive costs of moving. "The plan, at least for now, is to leave the Townsend home where it is," Hill said.
The city is also awaiting the completion of a downtown area plan, led by a consultant with input from a citizen committee comprising property owners and other stakeholders. "The plan should be finished later this month," Hill noted, adding that the committee is working on final touches. This plan will guide future zoning and development decisions for Block One.
One significant aspect under consideration is the height restriction. "Currently, the height is allowed up to 10 stories on that block, but there seems to be recommendations to lower that height," Hill said, indicating a potential shift in the development approach.
As for the immediate future of Block One, Hill said, "It's possible that the city could start marketing the plan later this year." He cautioned, however, that actual decisions might not materialize until 2025, given the thorough process involved in reviewing and approving proposals.
The question of utilizing the space in the interim also arose. While various ideas have been suggested, including using it as a food truck court, Hill stated that "there are no plans for anything right now." The focus remains on a more permanent and strategic use of the space.
Murray Chapel Amidst Downtown Shuffle
Currently, the Murray Chapel is not officially for sale, but the city council has passed a resolution indicating an intent to sell. "Before we put it up for sale, we have to still do the surveying of the property," Hill clarified, outlining the steps needed before any sale can proceed. There is also ongoing discussion about whether to sell the Chapel as one parcel or two, as the city owns additional property south of the Chapel.
One possible solution the city is negotiating is to see whether the Tea Rose Diner would be interested in purchasing it. The diner sits across the street from the Murray Chapel.
The idea of having a restaurant in the downtown area and keeping the Tea Rose Garden in Murray has been well-received. "Most people like the idea of having a restaurant in the downtown area," Hill said.
Murray Mansion Museum
Renovating Murray City’s historic Murray Mansion Museum into a showpiece for its heritage has proved challenging, beset by unexpected issues related to its age. “They keep uncovering more problems like electrical issues, HVAC issues, boiler issues, and structural problems as they get into the walls,” Hill said. While the contractor remains optimistic for May 2024 completion, others believe meeting this target could be ambitious if further setbacks emerge.
An essential aspect of the renovation is the addition to the north of the mansion, primarily to enhance accessibility. "It's more a lift than an elevator and provides restrooms for the museum," Hill said. This addition addresses the need for public and ADA-accessible restrooms, which the existing facilities lacked.
As for the museum's current functioning, Hill says it has been mostly mothballed during the renovation. "They've been slowly moving items over to the Murray Mansion over the last six months," he noted, indicating a gradual transition of the museum's artifacts to the new location.
Murray Theater Renovation
Similar renovation troubles have slowed the revival of Murray Theater, considered the new jewel of the city’s cultural assets. "They keep finding problems, the latest one being a storm drain issue," Hill said. Attempts to address the eroded foundations stumbled upon an abandoned storm drain, necessitating re-engineering of the water flow.
Hill placed the revised reopening timeline between next May and October, contingent on resolving this latest complication without busting budgets that are nearing their limits. Regarding future programming, Hill mentioned that a consultant was hired to conduct a feasibility study to identify potential users of the theater. "I have not seen any reports on the recommendations, so I think it's still being studied," he said, indicating that the theater's future programming remains under consideration.
Acknowledging the venue's need for more parking, Hill highlighted efforts to negotiate agreements with nearby property owners. The city did purchase land behind the theater for contractor access and ADA parking requirements. However, fundraising has lagged hopes so far, despite some large donations. "It’s been a bit of a disappointment," Hill said.
Lastly, Hill discussed the theater's iconic marquee. The new marquee will be a recreation of the original design, as opposed to the modified version previously removed.
Historic Armory Reimagined as Creekside Cottage Event Space
Further breathing new life into Murray's landmarks is the renovation of the Armory Motor Pool building into the Creekside Cottage at Murray Park event venue, scheduled for completion around mid-2024. “There’s been talk of giving it a name other than the Armory, primarily because the name is somewhat misleading (It served as the National Guard’s motorpool shop)," Hill said, explaining the name change.
Currently under contract, renovations are actively underway with an expected completion date around July or August of this year. The modifications aim to transform the former motor pool building of the Armory into a versatile, indoor pavilion-like space. "It could be used for anything from birthday parties to luncheons, to receptions," Hill said, highlighting the facility's adaptability.
The significant renovations include a new roof, windows replacing the garage door openings, and an interior designed for flexibility and functionality. The main hall, restrooms, a catering kitchen, storage, and a smaller, separate room for varied uses are all part of the redesign. A pergola with a patio adjacent to the creek and a trail connecting to Murray Park enhance the outdoor appeal.
With a projected capacity of around 300 people when seated at tables, the Creekside Cottage is poised to become a new hub for community events and gatherings. "It's like an indoor pavilion that people can rent," Hill said, indicating the city's intention to make the space widely available for public use.
While the city will gain an indoor pavilion, it also will lose storage space. To compensate for the loss, the city plans to build a $2-million new industrial shop area by the Murray Parks and Recreation Administration offices.
Phased Plan to Rebuild Key Public Works Infrastructure
Murray City's plan to develop a new Public Works building is gaining momentum following the approval of bonding for the project. Hill discussed the next steps for this significant infrastructure development in the city.
The first step in the process, as Hill outlined, is to sell the bonds to raise the necessary funds. "That'll be happening over the next couple of months," he said. Once the funds are secured, the city will embark on a phased approach to the project, led by Public Works Director Russ Kakala, with an allocated budget of about $20 million.
The initial phase will focus on constructing a new administration building. "That's probably the highest priority," Hill said. This development comes after the demolition of an existing smaller building, known as the break room building, which was carried out by the city's crews.
Employees of the Public Works department are currently housed in a two-story office building, which will also be demolished as part of the redevelopment. "They'll stay in there until the new administration building is taken down," Hill said. Following this, the city plans to start construction on vehicle storage space for shops, trucks, wastewater and stormwater vehicles.
Regarding detailed plans for the new buildings, Hill clarified that while conceptual plans exist, more advanced architectural and construction drawings are yet to be developed. "They'll be going through that process here for the next few months to select an architect and a contractor," he said, indicating that the project is still in the early stages of design.
Power Grid Changes to Impact most Murray Power Customers
Bringing Murray's infrastructure up to modern standards is also the motivation behind two major Murray Power initiatives. A vital substation sinking into an old landfill requires urgent rebuilding, possibly through relocation or stabilization. This substation is a main one for the city, making its stability and functionality critical.
On the cost front, the substation rebuilding project is budgeted for around $2 million, half of which includes a transformer. The city is currently in the planning and engineering phase for this project, with construction expected to start this year.
Another major initiative involves installing new meters throughout the city. The current meters require physical proximity for reading and control. The new automated meters, set for installation next year, will allow remote reading and control from a central location. "Everything will be read at a central location, and we'll be able to control the meters, turn them on and off," Hill said. This technological upgrade will facilitate immediate usage readings, aiding in conservation efforts and providing real-time data to residents through an app.
The rollout of these new meters, however, faces challenges due to supply chain issues. "There's still a backlog on getting these meters ordered," Hill said, adding that the Power Department had to return an incorrect shipment. The implementation could take up to two years, with the city's own crews carrying out the installation.
Library and Senior Center
The city has decided against merging the Library and Senior Center. Although a study was commissioned to explore solutions for the challenges faced by both facilities, including a potential merger, Hill indicated that the costs associated with such a merger exceed the city's budget constraints.
At the end of 2024, Murray residents could expect to see a theater, reception hall and a museum in operation. Murray Power customers will also be able to monitor the power consumption habits closely. Likewise, Murray residents will see the Murray Chapel change ownership and say their final goodbyes to the former Arlington Elementary School. λ