Heber’s new City Manager, Matt Brower, has been on the job since about mid-July. He’s arrived at a time when the city is dealing with phenomenal growth, a renowned airport, and efforts underway to address a state highway running through the town.
In his first interview with KPCW, Brower said he has Utah roots. He was born and raised in Salt Lake, and graduated from the University of Utah in the 90’s.
“I graduated from Florida State with my master’s degree. From there I managed communities in Georgia, Florida, California and of course Utah. Having been born and raised in Utah I was looking forward to coming back.” Brower explained, “My kids have started coming back to the state. My wife said we’ve got to get closer, grandkids are probably coming soon and it’s time to head back home.”
Heber Mayor Kelleen Potter said they chose Brower from a field of over 60 candidates. One reason was his prior experience with municipalities.
“He understands the culture, he wanted to get back to Utah, but he’s also seen a lot of different things with cities that were growing rapidly.” Potter continued, “He was most recently in a city that had a similar situation where the traffic on their Main Street was causing a lot of problems and they wanted to revitalize it. The ended up building a bypass and creating a more vibrant down town than ever. We felt like that he had so many relevant experiences to the issues that Heber’s facing right now. That’s the main reason he stood out.”
Related to the mayor’s remarks Brower said he’s been directed to prioritize the long-discussed bypass for U.S. 40, which historically has run through the center of town.
“There’s more easements that got to be purchased, there’s more planning that’s got to be done, environmental work that’s got to be undertaken and of course once that’s all done we have to do the construction of the new bypass.” Brower said, “Once that’s done, we have the ability to transform that downtown to an amazing place. It’s already a great place, we get to transform it maybe to a more amazing place.”
He said it will probably take five to 10 years to bring about the bypass.
Brower said he will work to make sure the staff at City Hall is top-flight.
He’s also going to enhance and optimize the Heber Airport. Brower said other cities he’s worked at have had air service.
“To me the airport is an economic jewel. It generates jobs it generates revenues for the city. For me, its’ looking at how we can enhance the airport to create additional jobs, create additional revenues for the city while being mindful of the locals interested in trying to keep it small and non-encompassing on the overall area.” Brower explained that those flying into Heber to visit Park City, especially during Sundance, create unique opportunities to take advantage of. “That’s the beauty of it people coming to Park City have to first come into Heber, so we’ve got to find a way to capitalize on that.”
On another major item, he said they’re working on the planned annexation of the large Sorenson property, at the northeast edge of the Heber Valley. Brower said they’re preparing their ordinances and regulations before the developer applies to the city. He said they will likely annex in the next year or so.
Brower said it’s better if they guide the development, even if it is projected to more than double Heber’s population.
“It is a very large area, but you’re looking at a 30-40-year buildout. It’s not going to happen overnight. Cities do very well with growth, they do very well with urban development. Counties are more rural in nature. I think the city is better poised to handle that type of development.” Brower continued, “The water would be provided by a special service district. It would actually not be provided by the city but by a special service district.”
Brower hasn’t escaped without some controversy. In Lincoln, California, some employees wrote an anonymous letter alleging mismanagement at City Hall.
“Every organization has employees who have challenges. In this case, I worked very closely with the union to try to solve those. Employees did not want to work with the union, we felt that it was not an issue at that time the union was not involved, and therefore we did not take any action. Lincoln, California had six unions. This particular group was part of a union, they did not contact the union. We did not have an opportunity to work with the union on this. So, in my mind, it was not an issue.”
Brower says that the incident had no impact on his seeking his new position in Heber.