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DRAPER — It's a rite of passage, and Utah has finally passed.

IKEA, the wildly popular Swedish home furnisher, will enter the Utah market with a 310,000-square-foot retail store and restaurant in Draper. As part of a larger 40-acre project, the IKEA store will be built on 22.5 acres at the northwest corner of I-15 and Bangerter Highway, IKEA spokesman Joseph E. Roth said at a news conference Tuesday.

The company expects the store to open in spring of 2007, a year after breaking ground.

The sale on the land is expected to close "within a few weeks," and final construction permit approvals are pending, said Doug Greenholz, IKEA's real estate manager for the Western states.

"It's been about a year since we first visited the market, and it has taken this long and quite a bit of effort to get to this point," Greenholz said. "But finally we have all the pieces in place where we can announce this project. And what a site it is. It's a great place, and it meets all of our criteria."

IKEA Draper is the company's first store in the Intermountain West. As of October, the IKEA Group had 227 stores in 33 countries and territories, including 27 in the United States. The company has largely stuck to America's exterior regions, with stores along both coasts and in Texas, Phoenix/Tempe, Chicago and Minneapolis.

Roth said the company chose Utah because it had the company's requisite market of 1.5 million to 2 million people, and its location made it a "natural extension" of IKEA's expansion. Plus, he said, the company's database of previous purchases indicated it had a ready-made market, with upward of 30,000 Utah customers.

Still, it took a full year for IKEA to wade through the sea of competing proposals, which reportedly came from nearly every metropolitan area in the state, before it decided finally on Draper.

Among the company's site criteria: 40 acres on which to build; accessibility to the company's customer base, which encompasses the state of Utah and surrounding states; freeway access and visibility; clearance to build the 40-foot-tall building; and community (and municipal) support.

"This is a city that is very development-friendly," Greenholz said. "They've been very supportive of the project. . . . We're in the right place, at the right time, with the right leadership and the right team."

David Baird, economic development manager for Draper, said the city was aware it was competing with Salt Lake City and points southward all the way to Lehi to land IKEA. But, Baird said, Draper had some powerful pluses on its side.

"I think the No. 1 differencemaker was our geographic location," Baird said. "Simply put, you're seeing the merging of the two valleys, and we're smack-dab in the middle of that hourglass, which is superb. The traffic infrastructure is superior in this location, where you've got a massive amount of growth on the southern side of the Salt Lake Valley as well as on the western side, and a lot of those are homes built for younger couples."

Neither Baird nor Greenholz elaborated on what, if any, incentives Draper city offered. But, Greenholz said the development agreement will go before the City Council tonight, which likely will provide more detail.

"Everyone really benefits from this project," Greenholz said. "Our customers will benefit from having us nearby. Our co-workers, 300 new jobs. . . . And the the community will benefit as well, in the form of sales and property taxes, which will fuel local services."

Shopper reaction early Tuesday ranged from those who weren't familiar with IKEA or its products, to those who would plan road trips around the company's stores in California.

"The only thing I've heard about it is what I've heard on the news," said Kim Peck, who was shopping at the Draper Peaks outdoor mall Tuesday. "But what I've heard about it was exciting. It looks like it (IKEA) has really cool stuff."

Liz Babcock of Stansbury Park said she was "very excited" about the prospect of having an IKEA nearby. Babcock heard of the company's products on the Oprah Winfrey show, investigated, and became a fan.

"I've never been to a store. I've just ordered through the catalog," Babcock said. After a short pause, she added, "But I order all the time."

"It's affordable, and fun," she said. "It carries different things — things you can't always find here."

Babcock said she and some friends once planned to drive to an IKEA store, either in California or in the Pacific Northwest. The trip fell through when schedules clashed, but Babcock said the desire was real.

"We thought it'd be such a fun weekend," she said. "You know, to just go, to drive. Unload two seats in the van (to make room for purchases) and go."


E-mail: jnii@desnews.com