Brigham Young ordered pioneers to develop their own sugar supply in 1852. Early attempts using sugar beats resulted in low-grade molasses. A new technique in 1891 succeeded crystallizing the molasses and resulted in the formation of the Utah-Idaho Sugar Company.
The Sugar Factory in West Jordan opened in 1916, producing more than 95,000 pounds of sugar during its first year. The factory was “the heart of the region's economy,” involving almost every family in West Jordan. At the height of its operation in 1950, the factory was the largest employer in the city. The plant, which included four buildings and two silos, was one of the largest of the thirty in the Utah-Idaho Sugar Company.[1, 4]
The Sugar Factory closed in 1966 after it became unprofitable to make sugar from beats.[4, 8] The factory had produced an estimated 11 million 100-pound bags of sugar. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints used the silos for grain storage before selling the property to West Jordan City in the mid 1980s. The city used the factory for storage.
Saving the Sugar Factory
West Jordan citizens, concerned about plans to demolish the sugar factory, passed an initiative in 2002 requiring a public vote on any commercial or private development in the area. The Deseret News described it as “one of the most bitter political fights in the city's history.”
Mayor Bryan Holladay formed a committee in 2003 to investigate renovation options for the factory. A $23,000 feasibility study, funded by the city and a National Trust for Historic Preservation grant, found that renovating the buildings was a possibility.
Inspired by Trolley Square, the West Jordan City Council approved, in March 2004, $20,000 toward a $40,000 study on turning the sugar factory into an arts and entertainment center. The factory was to be the center of a downtown revitalization project that would include a new police station, courts, a business district and park, all centered around the Mid-Jordan TRAX station.
"We are serious about making this a historic attraction for our citizens,” said Rob Bennett, West Jordan City Councilman. “It will end up being one of the top fun, family-oriented entertainment and cultural offerings for those who come to the Salt Lake Valley."
In August 2005, the City Council removed a prohibition on leasing the land, after concluding that preservation of the factory would be financially feasible only if the property could be leased to a business, such as an art gallery, performing arts center, or restaurant.
Sugar House Factory Playhouse
The revitalization of the Sugar Factory began on 17 June 2004, when West Jordan Theater Arts opened the 230-seat Sugar Factory Playhouse with a performance of Footloose: The Musical. The arts council previously performed in the city bowery, which was demolished to make room for a new fire station.[3, 4]
Plans to expand the playhouse into a cultural arts center included the addition of an amphitheater, an art gallery, rooms for art classes, a conference center with break-out session rooms, a wedding reception hall, and a retail complex. The existing Sugar Factory Playhouse auditorium would have been replaced with a larger performance area for theater, dance, and music groups. An idea for the silos called for a glass elevator to be mounted to the side of a one silo to transport customers to a restaurant.[4, 7] Costs, between $15 million and $20 million, would have included seismic upgrades. The State Legislature approved $40,000 in one-time funds to help pay for asbestos removal.
In 2008, West Jordan hired a professional company to raise funds for the renovation project. The West Jordan Historical Society began an oral history of the factory based on recollections of former employees
Mayor Dave Newton said, "We want to use it for visual arts and an arts complex for painting, drawing, photography, film, theatrical arts, plays, music and bands and symphonies. We want to create a whole arts-type focus for this southwest part of the valley that would draw people to this center."
In late 2009, Mayor Newton dedicated $1 million in residential development impact fees toward the Sugar Factory project and ordered a review of 4-year-old seismic studies to determine how much renovation was needed.[12, 17] Concerned about the use of taxpayer money to fund the arts center, city council member Melissa Johnson withdrew her support. Johnson replaced Newton as mayor at the beginning of 2010.
The review of the seismic studies arrived on 12 March 2010, indicating the building was unsafe for occupancy because of unreinforced concrete walls and a heavy concrete ceiling not connected to the supporting walls. The review recommended closure of the building as soon as possible. A separate review, by the Utah Risk Management Association, also found the building unsafe.
In a memo to city employees, Bill Bailey, a West Jordan building official, wrote, “With this new study in hand, I have no choice but the tag this building 'unsafe' and keep people out of it. I would like to post the 'unsafe' notices immediately to prevent any potential injury and protect this city from any liability.”
“I refuse to compromise public safety,” Mayor Johnson said. “You have an expectation of safety when you go into city building. Officials owe it to the public to restrict access.”
Condemnation notices were placed on the locked door of the Sugar Factory Playhouse on Monday, 15 March 2010. The British comedy, “See How They Run” was scheduled to open Thursday night, with a dress rehearsal on Wednesday. Preparation for the production included hundreds of volunteer hours and the construction of an elaborate set that would be difficult to move to a different venue.[10, 12]
Former mayor David Newton, a member of the Sugar Factory Arts Campus Board, called the closure unnecessary. “Let's wait two weeks and get the play over, and then look on. We are in no different position than we were in the last five years of having people in there,” Newton said. “That wall has been there for 90 years, probably 95, and it has been through earthquakes before. I think the risk is minimal; you probably have a better chance of being hit by lightening.”
The production of “See How They Run” was moved to the significantly smaller Midvale Performing Arts Center.[11, 13] The West Jordan City Council later contracted with Jordan School District to use school auditoriums for “Wonderland” and other Sugar Factory Playhouse productions over the following months. The council's contingency budget was to pay for any portion of the $45/hour rental fees not offset by extra ticket sales.
The Sugar Factory Arts Campus Committee organized as a tax-exempt, nonprofit organization in February 2010 and began fundraising during the summer. An ice cream social at the Historic Steadman Barn on Pioneer Day generated $4,000. By August 2010, the committee had raised $6,400 toward the estimated $2.6 million cost of restoring the west building of the Sugar Factory. A $100,000 pledge that could have jump-started fund-raising efforts was rescinded after the West Jordan City Council made clear its intent to demolish the Sugar Factory.[15, 17]
In August 2010, the City Council reduced the $1 million originally allotted for the renovation to $195,000 and set the money in a reserve fund to match dollars from the fundraising effort.
The City Council declared two acres of land adjacent to the Sugar Factory as surplus in September 2010 and sold it for $750,000. A portion of the income was set aside to pay for the demolition of the factory and outbuildings, although the two landmark storage silos were to be spared. The city had been collecting public input for several months and the council believed most residents would be happy with their fiscally responsible decision.[16, 17]
A week later, city building official Bill Bailey issued a condemnation order calling for the entire complex, including the silos, to be demolished within 60 days. Bailey said the silos could topple during a seismic event and it would cost $1.6 million to make them safe.[17, 18]
“The silos are a landmark in the community. It's disappointing that the silos are not in a condition that can be preserved without great expense to the city,” Mayor Melissa Johnson said. “They're not worth the price. We don't have the money.”
The West Jordan City Council awarded a $49,000 contract for asbestos removal on 12 October 2010. A demolition contract for the Sugar Factory was approved on 25 October 2010. Photos of the demolition were published in the West Jordan High school newspaper 6 January 2011.
West Jordan Theater Arts and the Sugar Factory Playhouse plan to begin performing in the new Salt Lake County Libary in West Jordan, beginning 14 June 2012.
1. "Sugar factory may enjoy a sweet new life", Deseret News, 08 March 2004 , page B1
2. "Weekend calendar", Deseret News, 11 June 2004 , page W4
3. "Broadway coming to Wasatch Front", Deseret News, 13 June 2004 , page E10
4. "Sugar factory revival", Deseret News, 17 June 2005 , page M1
5. "W. Jordan Council may amend Save Our Main Park initiative", Deseret News, 24 August 2005 , page B3
6. Sugar Factory Playhouse web site, www.sugarfactoryplayhouse.com, retrieved 30 April 2012
7. "W. Jordan rejects factory fund-raising plan", Deseret News, 11 July 2007 , page B4
8. "Old factory to become W. Jordan arts center", Deseret News, 29 March 2008 , page B1
10. "West Jordan playhouse members say the show must go on", KSL News, 17 March 2010
11. "West Jordan theater troupe finds temporary home", Deseret News, 17 March 2010
12. "West Jordan playhouse closes over seismic concerns", Deseret News, 17 March 2010 , page B3
13. "Performers offered a stage in Midvale", Deseret News, 18 March 2010 , page B6
14. "West Jordan community theater to use schools through July", Deseret News, 28 March 2010
15. "West Jordan mulls future of old Sugar Factory", Deseret News, 31 August 2010
16. "West Jordan City Council votes to sell sugar factory site", Deseret News, 25 September 2010 , page B3
17. "West Jordan building official condemns Sugar Factory, calls for demolition", Deseret News, 04 October 2010 , page B5
18. "West Jordan considers demolition of silos", Deseret News, 13 October 2010 , page B2
19. "Sugar Factory Goes Down", West Jordan High JagWire, 06 January 2011