In split vote, St. George City Council approves development agreement for Tech Ridge

ST. GEORGE — After half-a-decade of work, an agreement struck Thursday night between St. George and the developer of Tech Ridge will allow the project to continue moving forward; however, while members of the City Council expressed excitement at the prospect of a mixed-use technology park, concerns were also expressed about the high density plans for the ridge top.

The St. George City Council listens to details of the development agreement between the city and Tech Ridge LLC for the further development of the Tech Ridge technology park, St. George, Utah, Dec. 16, 2021 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Prior to a 3-2 vote by the council approving a 20-year term development the agreement between the city and Tech Ridge LLC, St. George Mayor Michele Randall said it had been “a long time coming.”

The agreement paves the way for the development of a mixed-use technology park at the location of the old city airport – a project that city officials have dreamed of since 2015.

Tech Ridge LLC was picked as the developer in 2017, but while Tech Ridge LLC is the developer, the land owner is the city of St. George.

“This is really exciting for St. George,” Councilwoman Dannielle Larkin said. “We’re doing something we’re never done before; it’s so different. It’s an exciting opportunity to build a tech ecosystem and to build wealth in our community.”

Covering 180 acres, the Tech Ridge master planned community is meant to spur the development of high-paying, tech-focused jobs in St. George. The development will also feature a mix of retail, office and residential space.

The total projected office and retail space estimated within the development is over 1.5 million square feet, with 2,400 residential units also planned. It is anticipated the employees of the tech companies will wish to live close to work. With that in mind, along with other factors, the tech park is designed to be a walkable community with interconnecting paths, as well as a trail that runs around the perimeter of the ridge top. Landscaping will consist of xeriscape and synthetic turf in order to save on water.

St. George City Councilman Jimmie Hughes voices concerns about the high density of the Tech Ridge project, St. George, Utah, Dec. 16, 2021 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

On the flip side of the excitement were the two dissenting votes: Councilmen Jimmie Hughes and Gregg McArthur, who have both expressed support for the project but who voiced concerns Thursday about the high density proposed for the area and impacts it may have on the surrounding community.

Hughes said a planned 2,400 units can easily translate to 4,800 people living on that part of the ridge top, in addition to the people who would be working in the Tech Ridge-based companies. He wondered aloud what it would look like when all of those people took to the road.

“Traffic is an issue in our community,” he said, adding that original plans for the ridge top had called for 1,100 units instead.

Hughes also expressed concern about the city being the first in the state to do this sort of project when it is a common practice for city staff and officials to look to other municipalities that have already undertaken similar endeavors and learn from their approach.

McArthur said he would like to see a third party brought in to review the project and see if the proposed densities are really feasible.

A zoning map of the Tech Ridge mixed-use development covering 180 acres atop the Black Hill in St. George | Image courtesy of the city of St. George, St. George News

“I absolutely want this to be successful, but those densities worry me,” he said.

However, Randall wasn’t keen on the idea, saying the time had passed for a third party to be brought in.

“I think we’re way past that point of backing off to hire an independent consultant,” she said.

This wasn’t the first time the issues have been raised. Worry over traffic, as well as concerns over water, were brought up during an open house held at Vasion in September.

At the time of the open house, Isaac Barlow, who is the CEO of busybusy, as well as Tech Ridge managing partner, told St. George News they had “been thinking about these things all along.”

The mayor called for a vote on the development agreement, which passed with members Vardell Curtis, Bryan Smethurst and Larkin voting for it, while Hughes and McArthur voted against it.

‘I think it’s going to be a big asset to St. George’

The agreement, which spans 20 years, outlines various obligations and milestones the project needs to reach in order to remain viable and permit the developer to buy the property from the city at a future date.

A rendering of office building to be built on the west side of Dixie Technical College as a part of the Tech Ridge mixed-use development | Image courtesy of the city of St. George, St. George News

The cost per acre in the agreement is $169,793 – or over $30.5 million for all 180 acres of the project.

Among the milestones that need to be met is the construction of at least 378,000 square feet of the project every five years over the 20-year span. Any extra square-footage built within a five-year segment will be rolled over into the next five-year block.

Tech Ridge must also have three working access points. This includes the existing Tech Ridge Drive that connects to Bluff Street, as well as east and west access points yet to be built. The west access point will connect to Indian Hills Drive, while the east access point will connect to Black Ridge Drive. The developer may not have to worry about the east access, however, as the city of St. George may go ahead with constructing it.

Should any these access points fail in some way, the project will be suspended until an alternative is found. The agreement specifically states that Donlee Drive will not be considered an alternative.

“Since we own that property, we need to be protected,” Randall said. “I think this (agreement) does a good job of protecting us.”

The City Council went on to unanimously approve a zone change to accommodate the incoming tech park. This allowed for pending construction of 10 office buildings on the west side of Dixie Technical College and a mixed office-retail project at the corner of Tech Ridge Parkway.

“To have our own tech park and to have it all combined in one area, I think it’s going to be a big asset to St. George,” Randall told St. George News following the council meeting. “I’m not so concerned about the density because of where its at.”

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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