O.C. Tanner Converts Library to Store

O.C. Tanner, a top supplier of corporate service awards and other award programs, is playing a leading role in Salt Lake City’s Downtown Rising, a five-year, $1.5 billion downtown revitalization project in a 10-block area of the city’s business and shopping district. The company’s biggest contribution was purchasing the Packard Library building and converting it into a 20,000-square-foot luxury jewelry store.

The library, built in 1905, is on the National Register of Historic Places and has functioned as a public building, home, and planetarium. It had been vacant for several years when the O.C. Tanner Co. purchased it from the city in 2006. After 21 months of construction and $24 million, the new downtown store opened in September.

It provides a number of benefits to O.C. Tanner. Company executives are active in a community-based program that garners support from the city’s affluent philanthropic social circles, the prime demographic for the store’s high-end jewelry and giftware. With plenty of open space, O.C. Tanner has become a high-demand venue for galas, balls, and other black-tie parties, further anchoring the store as a luxury icon.

Carolyn Tanner Irish, daughter of company founder Obert C. Tanner and chair of the company’s board since her father’s death in 1993, headed the board’s decision to budget $12 million to honor her father’s lifelong dream of opening the country’s finest jewelry store. The project ran into several budget-busting problems, including removing the old planetarium dome and replacing it with an exterior wall similar to the original exterior. “We had no old photos of the old east wall, so we had to take a bit of a creative license,” says company CEO David Peterson. “We actually had to completely remove the old east wall and replace it with large etched dolomite sandstone panels.”

Other cost overruns included lowering the building’s foundation by three feet below the existing footing. “We also had to put in new sidewalks with improved runoff and drains,” Peterson says.

As the economy began its downturn, O.C. Tanner board members worried about funding. “The project got under way before the recession started,” says Peterson. “But when the downturn worsened, board members sensed this may not be the best time to do this project, with halting the construction discussed at least a few times.”

Ultimately, commitment to Downtown Rising kept the project going.

“Speaking as the store’s manager, the $12 million we went over budget was perhaps not the most prudent financial decision,” says Curtis Bennett, vice president of retail operations. “But from a business perspective it was worth every penny.”