Cover Story: Sugar House
Paint the Town Purple
Westminster College sits in the heart of Salt Lake City’s beloved Sugar House neighborhood. How the campus and the community are growing together for the good of both
by Jeremy Pugh
Westminster’s official postal address puts its location in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA. But everyone knows the college is a part of the Sugar House neighborhood. Sugar House is both where we are and where we are from. For decades students and faculty have spilled out of the campus proper to fill local haunts with quiet study, academic jousting, and vitality. And, with new outposts like Westminster on the Draw housing students beyond the traditional campus boundaries, the connection grows stronger.
Over the last decade, the college and the neighborhood around it have quietly been growing together: talking, planning, making connections, and establishing an identity that more deeply embeds our beloved bucolic campus into the heart of a growing and changing Sugar House.
As Westminster’s historical boundaries grow more fluid and transparent, the college’s connection to Sugar House becomes more important. Each entity must consider the other in important decisions about growth, development, and transportation. College decision makers recognize that the vibrancy of Sugar House greatly enhances the quality of student life and learning. On the flip side, merchants and community members see the value of the college: the plays, lectures, musical performances, and athletic events enrich the neighborhood; and the local merchants recognize that students, faculty, and staff are good for business and add to Sugar House’s vitality.
The Turning Point
It wasn’t always this way. Westminster’s community relations director, Annalisa Holcombe (’92), can remember a time that the campus was looking inward. During this time its neighbors were always welcome, but the campus community wasn’t always thinking to the community beyond.
“The campus had been facing the Commons, “ she says. “We welcomed everyone, but I see how it could have felt unwelcoming to people who were not a part of our campus.”
Holcombe’s first few meetings with community members were often difficult. Neighbors regularly viewed the college administration with mistrust and were under misconceptions about the students. After one of the more difficult community meetings, Holcombe describes having a light-bulb awakening.
“We thought a few people would come; 150 showed up,” she recalls. “And there were Mark Dean of Students and I standing up there. I felt like they were waving pitchforks.”
That moment remains in Holcombe’s mind as a turning point. She saw it as a moment to seize and a goal to work toward: making a connection.
“At one particular meeting the neighbors were so mad,” she says. “I remember them saying terrible things about the students at Westminster. I got so worked up, I actually got choked up. I told them that they were talking about people I cared about and that they just weren’t the kids they were making them out to be. I realized then and there that we really needed to humanize Westminster, to start talking and not just be a faceless institution.”
Joining the Conversation
Sugar House community council chair Amy Barry remembers that moment and believes that, in its aftermath, a breakthrough in Westminster-Sugar House relations occurred. Then-Westminster President Michael Bassis supported Holcombe, a member of his presidential cabinet, in her suggestion to join the Sugar House Community Council.
“I was determined to help us truly be part of the community,” she says. “I figured that if we were sitting on the community council and helping to tackle the issues in our community on a daily basis, we wouldn’t be the ‘institution’ that only engages in community issues when we need help: we’d be a true neighbor—side by side trying to make our community a better place.”
Barry says she saw a legitimate “walking the talk” moment. “It showed that Westminster wanted to work to tie its student body to the broader Sugar House neighborhood and business district. We saw that its leadership was serious about building the connection, and they wanted to be more than just a school plopped down in the middle of town. It showed that they really wanted to be part of the community.”
The council has been around since the 1970s and elects trustees from areas within Sugar House to represent their neighbors in matters that affect the community as a whole. When Westminster placed a high-ranking staffer like Holcombe on the council, it was a big deal, Barry says.
Holcombe then joined the Sugar House merchant’s association. “Nobody knew about the merchant’s association,” says former association member Silvia Castro. “There was a lot of potential, but there was no focus. We have a really unique set of merchants in Sugar House, and when Annalisa joined, she started asking questions, looking at things. We call her ‘Miss fix it.’ We asked her to be chair, and she started involving students and really made it more inclusive.”
Westminster’s influence with the merchant’s association helped get more businesses involved, and last year it became the Sugar House Chamber of Commerce, representing more than just businesses and increasing its membership nearly 300 percent.
A College Town
The vision was always there. In 2009, a conversation was happening on campus: the topic was designing a blueprint that would create a “college town.” Westminster wanted to work toward building a symbiotic relationship between the neighborhood that surrounds it and the Westminster campus’ traditional boundaries. To that end, Westminster drew up a long-term plan to codify its continued outreach and participation in Sugar House’s growth and evolution. Titled plainly Sugar House and Westminster: The Next 25 Years, the plan formally spells out the need for Westminster to work together with Sugar House community leaders to enhance the community.
“Sugar House is evolving into a community that resembles a college town,” the report
states. “It benefits from the enhanced presence of Westminster students, faculty,
and staff through
increased economic activity, enhanced transit, recreational and educational opportunities, and improvements to space and facilities. Westminster College benefits by providing its students with expanded opportunities for community-based learning and for employment, recreation, entertainment, and housing.”
Lynn Olsen, a local writer and long-time active Sugar House community member, says that all the pieces are in place for Sugar House to continue to be a “college town” for Westminster. “There are so many benefits to having a college in our community,” Olsen says. “So many things happen on campus, and we all get to benefit from having it right in our back yard. It’s good for everybody in that regard.”
And while the University of Utah may have its giant football teams, big-time rivalry with Brigham Young University, and all that hoopla, Sugar House and Westminster are quietly becoming a college town, nestled into the larger city.
“I went to the University of Montana in Missoula and the University of Utah,” Barry says. “The U is just a commuter school, so different from Missoula, which is truly a college town. Westminster and Sugar House have the potential to grow into the connected college town where everyone takes pride in the school.”
Student consulting program helps Sugar House businesses
A few years ago, Westminster Community Relations started a student consultant program.
The program pairs students who study business or communication with local business owners. The business owners get the students’ expertise in developing business plans or creating marketing materials and strategies. The students get valuable practical experience in problem solving and working with clients. We spoke to Holly King (’14), who worked with the Paint Mixer last year to help them enhance their marketing and social-media strategies.
What is the Paint Mixer?
“It is a painting and wine studio. They offer painting classes for groups and individuals and combine the education with food and wine. They started in Park City, had a lot of success in their first year, and quickly opened a second location in Sugar House. When I came to them, they wanted help with their social media, getting involved with the Sugar House Chamber, and finding ways to market to companies to expand their corporate-event business.”
How did you help them?
“I created an action plan for them to implement. My suggestions were really well received, and I think I had a big influence on their social-media strategy. They were doing crazy things like posting way too many times a day with these really long posts and putting out newsletters that went on for miles. I suggested they scale it back, and a lot of that stuff was implemented.”
How does the program differ from a traditional internship?
“Well it’s not you going into some office and having someone tell you what to do. You have a company saying, ‘Here are our issues’ and asking you how to fix them.”
How did your Westminster education prepare you?
“I majored in communication. When I chose the degree, I had no idea what I wanted to do, and it allowed me to do a lot of things: design, technical writing, public relations. It’s pretty writing-heavy, and so I was able to help Paint Mixer with their marketing copy and even design.”
What did you take away from the experience?
I thought it was awesome! It was the first time that I had ultimate control and responsibility. The Paint Mixer wasn’t my boss. I was hired by the Community Relations Office at the college, and the Paint Mixer was my client. They didn’t control my suggestions or the results. It was a really good learning experience for me. It was like, OK, it’s up to me to make my own schedule, make my priority list, and produce the deliverables. At some point you have to trust your own intuition and judgment, and I really saw that I had learned a lot over my four years and was able to be confident in my suggestions.”
You’ve graduated. What are you doing now?
“I work for Clearlink, a telecommunications marketing company. I’m doing similar things that I did for the Paint Mixer on a much larger scale.”
Students in Sugar House
We asked five Westminster students what they love about living and learning in Sugar House.
“The University of Utah is all over the place. But Sugar House is more of a community. When I come to Sugar House, I see my fellow Westminster students. It’s cool. I really like that it’s the heart of Salt Lake City.” — Amanda Jones (’18), freshman
“I like that Sugar House is so central and close to campus with all the restaurants and parks and shopping. I think of it as part of campus. Sugar House Coffee is like the library. —Hanah Holt (’16), junior
“I love all the local stores here. It’s great to walk around after school. I love that Sugar House Coffee is open late, and they offer a discount to Westminster students.” —Anya Hankuliyeau (’15), senior
“We come into Sugar House every day. I think Sugar House is better than Salt Lake’s downtown. It’s nice that it’s so close to campus.” —Mika LeBlanc (’15), senior
“It’s such a convenience to have campus here. It feels like a real community of learners. I love being able to go off campus to do my homework because it makes it feel less like work. Plus, so many businesses offer us discounts.” —Jessica Bustamante (’15), senior
By the Numbers: Westminster on the Draw
In 2011, Westminster on the Draw opened for business. The building, located at the intersection of 2100 South and 1300 East, houses students, provides event space and classrooms, and has retail space on its ground floor.
Number of units: 42
Number of student residents: 148
Number of students residing in all campus housing: 726
Square footage: 66,826
Number of floors: six floors of residential space, one floor of academic space
Sugar House Hot Spots
Sugar House has seen a lot of change over the last even five years. But as construction finally ends in the central business district, things are coming into focus. Westminster students and faculty have plenty of places to eat, play, and shop in Sugar House. Here are a few of their favorites.
Sugar House Pub
1992 S. 1100 East, (801) 413-2857
A watering hole in the purest sense (no food), this is a favorite gathering place for Westminster students (those who are over the age of 21, of course). Stop by and bend an elbow.
Sugar House Coffee
1100 E. 2011 South, sugarhousecoffee.com, (801) 883-8867
Westminster students call it “the other library,” and on any given afternoon you’ll find them hard at work over their laptops and books.
1063 E. 2100 South, fiddlerselbowslc.com, (801) 463-9393
Home to many an after-work faculty meeting, this sports bar and restaurant features a full menu of Irish (sort of) comfort food.
2110 S. Highland Drive, wasatchbeers.com, (801) 783-1127,
A newcomer to Sugar House, this is the first brewpub outpost of Wasatch in the Salt Lake Valley. The original Wasatch Brewpub in Park City was the state’s first. It offers an inovative menu designed to pair with Wasatch cheekily-named faves like Polygamy Porter and St. Provo Girl.
2121 S. McClelland Street, joffeescoffees.com, (801) 415-1988
Primarily a large-batch, high-altitude roasting company, this new store front is another Sugar House newcomer built to showcase Roast Master Jeff Farri’s handiwork.
2148 S. Highland Drive, omarsrawtopia.com, (801) 486-0332
For the healthily minded, Omar’s vast array of nutrient-rich, organic dishes are gluten free and vegan, adhering to strict “raw food” standards. But it’s not just a bunch of fruits, nuts, and granola; creative concoctions with exotic spices dot the menu and are prepared with painstaking attention to detail.
Mellow Mushroom Pizza
1080 E. 2100 South, mellowmushroom.com, (801) 844-1444
A chain located primarily in the American southwest, this is its first store here in Utah.
Sugar House Events
Sugar House Art Walks are held every second Friday starting in March at locations around the area. Maps are posted each month on sugarhouseartwalk.org
June sees the opening of the Sugarmont Summer Concert Series in Sugarmont Plaza (2227 S. Highland Drive). Concerts are held Monday nights starting at 6 p.m. in the plaza, which also features a gathering of food trucks.
The Sugar House Farmer’s Market opens in July on Fridays from 4 to 8 p.m. in Sugarmont Plaza, 2227 S. Highland Drive
The Fourth of July street fair and Pet Parade takes place over the Fourth of July weekend on Highland Drive and coincides with the popular Sugar House fireworks show.
‘Purple Banners and Trains, Oh My’
This past year, Westminster updated the banners that hang from the light posts along 1300 East and has encouraged local Sugar House businesses to hang Griffin flags in their establishments. You may have also seen UTA TRAX trains rolling through town wrapped in Griffin purple. Show your Westminster pride and pick up a flag or other Griffin swag at the campus bookstore.
About the Westminster Review
The Westminster Review is Westminster College’s bi-annual alumni magazine that is distributed to alumni and community members. Each issue aims to keep alumni updated on campus current events and highlights the accomplishments of current students, professors, and Westminster alum.