Green River Celebrates Canal Commons Launch

Caption: Ren Hatt (City Mayor) and Maria Sykes (Epicenter Director) welcome attendees to the Canal Commons groundbreaking ceremony. Photo by Epicenter Fellow Sandra Salvas.

Canal Commons Groundbreaking Ceremony
A groundbreaking ceremony held on May 25, 2024, marked the beginning of a new chapter for Green River, Utah, with the launch of the much-anticipated Canal Commons development. Led by Epicenter, Canal Commons will deliver new greenspaces and 10 single-family homes, offering both rental and owner-occupied options, in response to the town’s continued need for affordable housing and addressing vacant or blighted sites in Green River.

Caption: Attendees at the groundbreaking ceremony. Photo by Epicenter Fellow Sandra Salvas.

The ceremony, held on the 3.8-acre project site, brought together many community members eager to witness the start of construction as well as City officials, project partners, and Epicenter staff, board members, volunteers, and supporters. Green River Mayor Ren Hatt acknowledged the City’s commitment to providing incentives for entities like Epicenter to develop more housing options for local and prospective residents. “It’s hard to believe that no one has developed new affordable rental housing in town in decades. And it was not for a lack of trying or demand, but rather a lack of outside interest in developing housing here. It simply has not been seen as financially profitable. It can be challenging to convince outsiders that Green River is worth investing in. But, thankfully, Epicenter believes in Green River and the people who live here,” stated Hatt.

He continued, “The need for affordable housing has been a concern for me and at least the two mayors who came before me. Canal Commons represents a significant step forward in addressing this challenge. We are thrilled that Epicenter is breaking ground on this project.”

Epicenter Director Maria Sykes elaborated on the project’s vision. “Canal Commons will be more than just new housing for residents. It’s an investment in Green River. And it’s an example that will hopefully catalyze the development of even more housing that is designed with and for our community.”

Canal Common’s design philosophy prioritizes not only affordability but also accessibility and fostering a sense of community. The detached single-family homes, inspired by the surrounding vernacular architecture and informed by current local preferences and Epicenter’s recent projects and studies, are designed for energy efficiency and minimal maintenance; both the units’ rent amounts and ongoing management are designed to be perpetually affordable. The layout thoughtfully positions the units to face inward, creating a shared green space that fosters interaction among residents and buffers noise from nearby streets and train tracks.

Caption (l to r): Zoe Gardner (Epicenter), Kent Nelson (City Council), Ren Hatt (City Mayor), Maria Sykes (Epicenter), Jay McDonald (JCM Construction), Lindsey Briceno (Epicenter), Kenny Fallon Jr (Epicenter), Stephanie Tobey (Zions Bank), Rosie Goucher Serago (Epicenter), Kayce May-Riches (Epicenter), and Elpitha Toutsounakis (Epicenter). Photo by Epicenter Fellow Sandra Salvas.

The groundbreaking ceremony itself was a symbolic moment, marking the official start of construction. Dignitaries, including Mayor Ren Hatt, participated in a ceremonial turning of the soil, signifying the beginning of a new era for the site and the community. Mayor Hatt was joined in turning the soil by Jay McDonald of JCM Construction, Lindsey Briceno of Epicenter, Kenny Fallon Jr of Epicenter, and Stephanie Tobey of Zions Bank.

The ceremony also offered glimpses into the future of Canal Commons. A rendering and site model showcased the development’s planned phases including the “commons” area, a semi-public outdoor space for residents to gather and connect. Epicenter representatives also highlighted plans for Phase II-III, which will focus on 5 owner-occupied units and developing the shared greenspace.

Caption: Attendees line up for potluck lunch.

Following the groundbreaking and the ribbon cutting at the Park (see below), attendees were invited to the adjacent Pearl Baker Park for a potluck lunch. Mayor Hatt smoked chicken for bbq sandwiches while attendees provided the sides.

Caption: Epicenter Fellow Rosie Gochnour Serago (center) leading activities during the event.

Alongside the meal, Epicenter’s new “Come Home to Green River” Fellows invited folks to participate in two activities: “Write a Message to a Future Neighbor” and Pearl Baker Park future activities. The first activity asked participants to take a selfie using Epicenter’s Instax cameras, affix the photo to a card, and write a housewarming message to the future residents of Canal Commons. The second activity asked participants to vote on which activities they would most like to have in the park (listed here in order of popularity): live music, gardening or birding club, info for visitors, healthy community meals, art classes, scavenger hunts, and/or family photo/portrait event.

Caption: “Message to a Future Neighbor” activity in progress.

The Pavilion at Pearl Baker Park
In addition to breaking ground at Canal Commons, on May 25th Epicenter also celebrated the new pavilion at Pearl Baker Park.

Caption: Zoe Gardner (Epicenter) cuts the ribbon, joined by Emery County Business Chamber representatives, Suzie Day (descendant of Pearl Baker!), Kent Nelson (City Council), Ren Hatt (City Mayor), Maria Sykes (Epicenter), Lindsey Briceno (Epicenter), Elpitha Tsoutsounakis (Epicenter), and Kenny Fallon Jr. Not pictured but present: Kayce May-Riches (Epicenter) and Miss Teen Emery County. Photo by Robin Hunt.

Located on the southeastern corner of the Canal Commons site is Pearl Baker Park. A mature Fremont Cottonwood grove marked this location as ideal for a public park fostering both reflection and education. The park’s design reflects the collaborative efforts of community members, professional landscape designers, Americorps volunteers, local youth, and contractors.

The park incorporates natural play areas, dry-stacked walls, native and naturalized plantings, an outdoor classroom, and water-wise strategies. Previously used by the railroad for livestock and unofficially enjoyed by local children, the site lay vacant for decades. The town named the park after Pearl Biddlecome Baker, a local educator, author, pilot, and cowgirl who documented our region’s outlaw history.

During the design development of the park, the southern corner emerged as an ideal location for a landmark structure offering panoramic views. The pavilion’s form draws inspiration from the water tower that once stood adjacent to the site, a historical nod to Green River’s past as a vital railroad stop and regional crossroads.

Caption: Historic image featuring the old watertower. Photo courtesy of the Green River Archives / John Wesley Powell River History Museum.

The new small multi-purpose pavilion at Pearl Baker Park serves as a viewing platform, orientation point, and place of rest. Framed openings capture key vistas of the park itself as well as distant geological landmarks like the Book Cliffs and G-Hill. Additionally, specific openings align with the rising and setting sun during equinoxes and solstices. Designed for inclusivity, the pavilion features shaded seating, accessible walkways, and clear, informative signage.

Caption: New pavilion aperture framing the Book Cliffs. Photo by Epicenter Fellow Sandra Salvas.

With the pavilion nearly complete, Epicenter has plans for the addition of educational signage, more native and naturalized plantings, a footbridge over the canal to provide direct access into Canal Commons, and more in a subsequent phase.

The pavilion at Pearl Baker Park is made possible by AARP – Livable Communities, the Utah Division of Outdoor Recreation, and Emery County Travel Bureau.

Special thanks to the employees from Dead Horse Point, Green River, and Goblin Valley State Parks for helping Epicenter clean and prepare the groundbreaking site and Pearl Baker Park on May 23, 2025. Your help was critical in making the event a success! Additionally, thank you to the Emery County Business Chamber for attending the event and supplying the golden shovels, grand opening sign, and big ribbon and scissors. Your presence and contributions made the day even more special!

Additional Information:

Canal Commons
Developer: Epicenter Properties, LLC.
Project Name: Canal Commons
Location: Green River Avenue, Green River, Utah
Number of Units: 10 (5 rental, 5 owner-occupied)

Project Phases: Phased development with Phase I focusing on 5 rental units, Phase II on 5 owner-occupied units, and Phase III on the “commons” greenspace (ie. extension of Pearl Baker Park over the canal into the housing development)

Project Timeline: Estimated completion date for Phase I: April 2025

Project Partners: City of Green River, State of Utah’s Olene Walker Housing Loan Fund, Rural Community Assistance Corporation (RCAC), Federal Home Loan Bank of Des Moines, Zions Bank, Emery County – Community Reinvestment Agency, Clark and Christine Ivory Foundation, Enterprise Community Partners, American Express National Bank, Rocky Mountain Community Reinvestment Corporation, ASSIST Inc, AARP, State Farm, National Endowment for the Arts, Union Pacific Foundation, Wells Fargo Foundation, Rocky Mountain Power Foundation, UServeUtah, and AmeriCorps.