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Kaufusi touts Provo as ‘exceptional’ city; announces future goals

By Genelle Pugmire - | Feb 2, 2023

Harrison Epstein, Daily Herald

Provo Mayor Michelle Kaufusi gives the State of the City address at the Covey Center for the Arts on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023.

Michelle Garrick attended Provo public schools. At home was her father, an alcoholic, and the family was regularly involved in domestic violence. The young girl knew help would come. Her city wrapped its arms around her with odd jobs so she could buy shoes and eventually helped her find a way to college.

As she told a crowd of friends, members of the public and city officials on Wednesday night, Michelle Garrick Kaufusi was that girl, and Provo the city that took her in.

“Thank you for allowing me to serve you,” Kaufusi, Provo’s first female mayor, said to the crowd.

On Wednesday, the Provo State of the City address, held at the Covey Center for the Arts, highlighted accomplishments of 2022 and goals heading into 2023 with a focus on the city’s first mission statement — “Exceptional Care for an Exceptional Community.”

Kaufusi doesn’t take being exceptional lightly. She started her presentation by walking through achievements, beginning with the Milken Institute naming Provo the Best Performing City in America for the second year in a row.

Harrison Epstein, Daily Herald

Provo Mayor Michelle Kaufusi gives the State of the City address at the Covey Center for the Arts on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023.

Kaufusi made a point to highlight “foundation stones” in the city completed last year by opening the new City Hall and the new Municipal Airport terminal.

The new City Hall came out of a request for safe working environments by Public Safety. The old police department was built for 40 officers and had 120 officers working there. They used closets for offices with water leaks, cracks and more. With the help of then-Police Chief Rich Ferguson and Fire Chief Jim Miguel, the mayor started educating the community on the need for a new public safety building and city hall.

In 2022 they cut the ribbon on a completely clean, carbon net-zero city hall building — the only of its kind in the state, Kaufusi boasted.

On July 2, 2022, the Transportation Safety Administration took over the newly-built airport and all four gates were opened to the public. The gates host Allegiant and Breeze Airways, both soon after announcing Provo as their home bases in Utah.

The general plan said in the next 20 to 30 years there would be a new airport and Kaufusi asked, “Why are we waiting that long.”

Harrison Epstein, Daily Herald

Provo Mayor Michelle Kaufusi gives the State of the City address at the Covey Center for the Arts on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023.

So the administration and council went out hunting for money on federal, state, county and city levels. The airport opened debt free and with 1,020 new jobs. However, demand from other airlines soon came, leading to Kaufusi’s big announcement.

“With international flights from Provo to Cabo, Cancun and elsewhere, the airport’s name will change to the Provo International Airport,” Kaufusi said.

Two airlines have signed an agreement to fly to international destinations out of Provo.

The airport is already at capacity and the mayor is again out seeking financial help to build out more gates, a runway and a customs desk. She’ll need about $65 million and she is determined to get it, ideally without bonding. Economically, the city’s rainy day fund also sits at its highest level with $40 million stored away.

Other “exceptional” examples include the Parks & Recreation department being recognized as the best in the nation and Provo receiving a $50 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Administration to recharge Provo aquifers giving water to the city for decades to come.

After asking residents to cut back on water usage in 2022, Kaufusi said the city conserved 728 million gallons of water.

In 2023 there will be two new parks within the city limits. Quail Orchard Park, designed by the neighbors around it, and the 100-acre Regional Sports Park by the airport. The sports facility will have 21 playing fields, walking paths, playgrounds, concessions and will bring in millions of dollars in revenue.

There will also be two new pedestrian bridges, the first at the FrontRunner hub in south Provo and the other over University Avenue by the old Provo High School, now owned by Brigham Young University.

After Kaufusi left the stage came a series of city leaders giving TED Talk-esque presentations on Provo’s past, present and future. The guest speakers were Bill Hulterstrom, president and CEO of United Way of Utah County; Carri Jenkins, director of University Communications at BYU; Norm Wright, president and CEO of the Noorda College of Osteopathic Medicine; and Chad Linebaugh, president and general manager of Sundance Resort.

“What makes us exceptional?” Hulterstrom asked. “We really care for each other. We’re a community of caring. We have a tradition of making a difference together.” Hulterstrom discussed the city’s legacy of community, noting the United Way’s 60th anniversary celebration.

“BYU’s contributions are exceptional,” Jenkins said. She mentioned BYU adding a course in Azerbaijani, the language of Azerbaijan, and the first such course in the country.

BYU has a depth of languages with 73 being taught and 131 spoken on campus, according to Jenkins.

In 2021-2022, BYU students gave 34,216 hours of community service, plus running the STEM program at the Franklin Community Center. They also help with the Sowing Seeds of Hope program with the Food and Care Coalition.

Wright spoke of the medical facilities at the south gateway to Provo, touting the 140,000-square foot medical school on its 30-acre campus. He gave a nod to Noorda’s neighbor, the Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions. With the two schools, city leaders hope to make the south end of Provo into the biotechnical center of the county. Wright added a hope that with the programs and residency opportunities, most students will stay and practice in Utah.

For the first time in a while, Sundance Resort has 260 inches of snow — and that is exceptional, according to Linebaugh. The origins of Sundance started in Provo in the 1960s when Robert Redford bought a shop at 78 W. Center that had a beautiful rock wall on the backside. He married a Provo woman and bought Sundance as a way to preserve Provo Canyon.

“We are thrilled to be affiliated with Provo city and grateful to be your neighbor,” Linebaugh said.


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