Published: Wednesday, May 20, 2009 10:33 p.m. MDT

WEST VALLEY CITY — Plans for an international marketplace to complement the Utah Cultural Celebration Center could be economically infeasible, according to city employees and a consultant paid to study the ethnic food market.

However, West Valley City officials have offered a private developer about $7.2 million in tax breaks and land value to develop the long-sought project.

Plans for the 18-acre marketplace have been in place for nearly a decade, but its construction has been slowed by legal issues regarding ownership of the land in question and staffing turnover at the city.

Tuesday, the City Council approved a contract to sell the land, but council members still want to force Ascent Construction to meet specific tenant requirements.

For example, the city could require that no more than 30 percent of the project space be represented by any one ethnicity, said Councilman Mike Winder.

Winder's fears were raised after West Valley economic development director Nicole Cottle told the council that the project could easily turn into more of a Latino market than an international one.

Current plans call for the city to retain control over the project's architecture. The purchase price of the land would be about $2 million, almost the exact price paid for the land 10 years ago, said West Valley Redevelopment Agency administrator Brent Garlick. That's $2.5 million less than the land is worth, according to city officials.

Tax-increment funding, which comes from property taxes not paid by the developer, is expected to garner about $4.6 million for Ascent.

The city-owned Utah Cultural Center is tucked away on a dead-end street near The Westerner private club on Redwood Road. The area is a gateway to the city, but that fact is far from obvious to the casual observer.

For now, the cultural center is bordered by a telecommunications business and a multifamily housing complex on one side. On the other, a flock of geese reside on the banks of the Jordan River near picnic tables and aromatic bushes blossoming in pink and purple.

Plans call for the picnic tables and plaza to be replaced by a major through street.

"We look forward to having it here, whatever it ends up being," cultural center executive director Ross Olsen said of the marketplace project. "It should speak to the international community. It should be something special."

A study by Bonneville Research found that more than 47 percent of West Valley residents can be considered ethnic. The ethnic food market is growing, but the project will only succeed if it draws customers from more than 10 minutes away, the study found.

City officials want shovels in the ground for the project as soon as possible, but Ascent President Brad Knowlten admitted that tightened financial markets and a slow retail sector could delay the development.

But the clock is ticking on the tax-increment funding option, which expires in 11 years.

The international marketplace is expected to include representation from Latino, Asian, Pacific-Islander, African-American and American Indian cultures. No leases have been signed — or offered — but project marketer and recruiter Katherine Quinlan said it will ultimately be like an indoor farmers market with retail space at various size and price levels.

"Usually, those smaller independently owned boutique retailers are looking to be clustered together with other like businesses," Quinlan said.

The project could also include housing, office space and recreational access to the Jordan River.

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