The city says the benefits it reaped outweighed what it gave residents.
Pioneer Craft House has until Thursday to vacate the historic school which has housed its community art classes and studio since 1950, according to an eviction notice issued Monday by the city of South Salt Lake.
Jeff Hatch, chairman of the board of directors of the nonprofit Pioneer Craft House, told the Salt Lake Tribune on Tuesday that he received the eviction notice at his home. South Salt Lake also released a backgrounder on Monday confirming eviction proceedings had begun, alleging that the nonprofit “did not have a valid lease.”
The city says the nonprofit’s classes are expensive and infrequently used by South Salt Lake residents.
Pioneer Craft House, at 3271 South 500 East in South Salt Lake on the historic Scott School campus, has been offering arts and crafts classes to the Utahns, many of whom are veterans, for decades. This is not the first time that the program has come into conflict with the city.
“We have a long history of problems with South Salt Lake,” Hatch said.
These problems began after the city, with help from Salt Lake County, purchased the property from the school district. In 2008, South Salt Lake and the nonprofit entered into a 10-year lease, which saw the nonprofit pay $ 1 per year in rent. The city tried to end the lease in 2012 and evict the nonprofit, and Craft house of the pioneers filed a federal lawsuit in litigation.
The city won that lawsuit in 2017, but did not move to kick out the nonprofit until this year.
Hatch said the city turned down his lease requests when he offered a monthly rent of $ 1,500. He said the city told Pioneer Craft House it couldn’t subsidize a lease for a non-profit organization.
The city says the nonprofit has already underpaid rent on the 16,000 square foot space for years without providing sufficient community benefits.
South Salt Lake Urban Design Director Sharen Hauri said the city wanted to use the property as a community center. She said this vision would include art lessons. The classes run by Pioneer Craft House were expensive and were not well attended by residents of South Salt Lake, Hauri said. She said the nonprofit does not offer a very wide range of course options.
Hauri said the city wanted $ 30,000 in monthly rent from the nonprofit, adding that a city audit found that the nonprofit had the means to raise funds. She said the city was also offering a lower rent if the nonprofit made the classes more affordable, but said there was still not much participation from residents.
Hatch said the program had more than 1,900 students in the year before the COVID-19 pandemic, of whom about 250 were from South Salt Lake.
South Salt Lake Mayor Cherie Woods said in a statement at Wednesday’s city council meeting that the city has a responsibility to provide quality and affordable services to residents. She said the city had “lost over a hundred thousand dollars” in rent over the past decade.
“We also have an obligation to our taxpayers to use public facilities in a way that benefits our residents,” she said. “Pioneer Craft House literally made this job impossible.”
The arts center has not been able to organize in-person classes since March 2020 due to the pandemic.
A notice on the centre’s website says that students currently in a class may be offered replacement time when classes meet again, receive a refund, or donate their payment.
Hatch said he believed the nonprofit had launched the ‘hornet’s nest’ as things started to reopen. He said the nonprofit had asked if it could enter the building to clean up its space before the city’s official buildings reopen date. He said the answer was no. Hatch said the eviction notice was served on Monday, about a week after the building reopened.
But Hauri said the eviction took place this week because the city finally had full control over the property. Since the county helped facilitate the transfer of title from the school district, it has partially owned the school over the past decade.
Hatch said Pioneer Craft House was looking for a new space to host their classes. However, the search is complicated by the fact that it takes a lot of room for equipment such as looms and pottery kilns.
The most suitable space so far will not be released until the end of the year, he said, which means the nonprofit will have to figure out how to operate for the next eight months.