BRIGHAM CITY — Appearing at a newly redeveloped historic Main Street building on Tuesday, a White House official announced a $550,000 grant to spur rural Utah economic revival projects.
Scott Turner, White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council executive director, praised David and Donna Walker, whose revitalization of the 1892 Union Block Building was aided by federal opportunity zone investments.
“When you actually see people putting their hands to the plow and doing the work, it is very encouraging,” said Turner, a former Texas congressman and NFL defensive back who lauded the teamwork necessary for such projects to succeed.
David Walker told the audience at Tuesday’s announcement event that the availability of historic building development tax credits and the opportunity zone tax break “led an investor to us.”
The result was a vibrant, newly restored anchor to Brigham City’s Main Street. The Walkers, owners of the building, have turned it into a community gathering space and retail location.
Turner said the nearly $400,000 federal grant, combined with a $150,000 state match, will go toward creation of a Rural Opportunity Zone and Recovery Playbook and training for 21 rural counties.
The playbook is to be developed by the Utah Association of Counties and the Sorenson Impact Center at the University of Utah.
It is intended to help rural counties attract opportunity zone investors for projects like the Union Block Building.
The announcement of the federal grant from the Economic Development Administration said rural developers will be taught to track the impact of projects; assess community needs; develop an investment pipeline; layer local, state and federal incentives; and perform marketing.
Opportunity zones were authorized by Congress in 2017 to spur economic growth and job creation in low-income communities.
Opportunity zone investors are able to apply capital gains to projects, thereby lowering their taxes.
“Revitalizing this kind of effort is a public and private partnership,” Walker said. “It can’t work any other way.”
Turner said America’s rural towns and counties are vital to the nation’s sustainability.
“Poverty is real,” he said. “Poverty affects everybody, directly or indirectly. We want to bring new life to places that haven’t seen it in a long time.”
Geoff Davis, Sorenson Center CEO, said everyone working on the rural Utah initiative is “committed to a fair, equitable, resilient recovery from COVID.”
“That seems daunting, ambitious, but so was this building,” he said, gesturing to his surroundings in the Union Block. “It was derelict, sucking the air out of Main Street.”
The Union Block Building, at 57 S. Main St., was built 128 years ago and housed specialty and department stores, restaurants and apartments until it fell into disuse, according to the National Register of Historic Places.
Walker said it was the location of Brigham City’s first drinking establishment and had a role in the creation of Box Elder County’s famed Fruit Way along U.S. 89.