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Salt Lake City begins to plan for future of unique ‘Hobbitville’

<i></i><br/>Salt Lake City officials begins to plan for the future of a unique 'Hobbitville.'

Salt Lake City officials begins to plan for the future of a unique 'Hobbitville.'

By Carter Williams

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    SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (KSL) — Katherine Maus acknowledges that Allen Park is very different than the other parks she’s worked on.

The 92-year-old private residence turned public park, affectionately known by Salt Lake City residents as “Hobbitville,” is a quiet sanctuary, almost hidden away from the city’s fast-growing Sugar House neighborhood. Its large trees tower over abandoned tiny homes and cabins that George Allen, the one-time president of a Utah zoological society, had constructed on his property for house students, professors, artists and anyone who needed a place to stay near Westminster Park decades ago.

The land is also filled with aging statues and artwork with some of Allen’s favorite literary quotes printed on them. Visitors also can find wildlife milling through the open land as they wander through all of these different components that make Allen Park unique.

“We have a lot (of parks) that are culturally rich but this is definitely at the top of the list for parks with unique histories and rich cultures,” said Maus, a planner for Salt Lake City’s public lands department, moments before a peacock plopped on the ground about 30 feet from her and belted out a loud call.

It’s been three years since Salt Lake City swooped in and acquired the park for $7.5 million in an effort to save it from being torn down and turned into private development. It opened to the public for the first time in several decades later in 2020.

But the property has mostly remained the same since the city acquired it, aside from fences and information signage that were installed in the months before it became a public park. It’s partially dilapidated to the point that none of the buildings have opened to the public.

Now city planners are working to figure out the park’s future, which could include finding a new use for the park’s main lodge among other things. The city started by compiling a cultural landscape report, which documents all of the park’s assets and history.

Salt Lake City planners are also compiling an adaptive reuse and management plan for the park, which will better detail what’s in store for Allen Park. City planners launched a public feedback campaign tied to the project Tuesday, beginning with an open house at the park.

Residents and parkgoers who weren’t able to attend will still be able to submit their feedback through public comment and an online survey over the next few months, as the city seeks to figure out what residents want the future of Allen Park to look like. Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall said, in a video posted Monday, that the city wants to hear from a “broad cross-section of city residents and visitors” as the plan is compiled.

Maus told KSL.com on Tuesday that early feedback so far indicates residents view retaining artistic elements and historic structures as a “high priority.” The idea of the broad comment period is to collect as much feedback as possible on what people want in the park space before putting together the plan.

“The engagement we’re looking for is very multifaceted,” Maus said. “We kind of have opportunities for folks to leave open-ended comments about stories and things they’ve experienced in the park previously, general thoughts of how people want the future to look here, and then we have some more targeted survey questions of value assessment, like what is important in Allen Park to you?”

This public feedback component is expected to continue through September before consultants are brought in to review the comments and put together ideas for plans and programming. These ideas could be released to the public as early as this fall before the plan is finalized, possibly in early 2024.

It’s too early to know what the plan will look like, but there are more upgrades expected in the park before the plan is finalized. The Salt Lake City Council is close to authorizing the first $25.5 million tranche of an $85 million general obligation bond that city residents approved for park projects last year. The tranche calls for $850,000 that will be used to help design some of the projects tied to the forthcoming plan.

The funding will also help pay for the installation of a water line for fire suppression and landscaping needs in the future. The city also stabilized the roof of the main lodge earlier this year.

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