Residents of Orem gathered at the September city council meeting to voice their concerns about city leadership’s plan to finance the upcoming University Mall redevelopment. The residents’ main complaint regarded the massive tax breaks the project will receive once it starts generating revenue.
The council voted 5-1 to continue with the redevelopment funding as planned. The Community Development Project Area Plan (CDA) will provide approximately $63 million to aid in infrastructure upgrades, building construction and development of community areas.
“We ought to be putting this issue on the ballot,” said Orem resident Wayne Burr. “We’re giving money back to one business and taking it out of the infrastructure of the city.”
Orem resident Jacob Siebach agreed. “This redevelopment is absolutely needed; however, government should not be involved.”
Orem office space owner Becky Caldwell said giving city aid to the Woodbury Corporation, the company managing the redevelopment, would not be fair to other Orem businesses. “We should let the free enterprise system work,” she said. “No one came to me (with a subsidy offer) when we were considering building an office.”
Speakers repeatedly mentioned Orem’s troubled UTOPIA project as an example of what happens when investments decided on by the council don’t go as planned.
Of the 18 residents who spoke during the public hearing, two spoke in favor of the CDA, including former Orem mayor James Evans.
“We’re talking about forces working together: the citizens, the council, the staff, the (Woodbury Corporation) all coming together to make great things continue to happen in our community,” Evans said.
Councilman Hans Andersen was the only council member to vote against the ordinance. Prior to the meeting, Andersen had run an automated phone call campaign asking citizens to oppose the CDA. The call said, “Hi, fellow Orem citizen. The Orem City Council will give the mall $63 million. That’s not right. Please sign the petition to stop the $63 million subsidy. Paid for by Hans Andersen, Orem City Council,” according to a resident who received the call.
Councilwoman Margaret Black expressed her concern about these automated calls, calling them “simplistic, misleading and inflammatory.”
Council members and proponents of the CDA emphasized the project’s value in maintaining Orem’s position as the retail hub of Utah Valley and attracting job-creating businesses.
“I’m excited as the mayor to participate in an investment in the city,” said Orem Mayor Richard Brunst. “We are investing for the future, for the long term, and I would hope that the citizens might see it as that.”