Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
Each day, the steel framework seems to rise higher out of the ground, as construction workers, dressed in orange vests and hard hats, scurry back and forth between churning cement mixers, clawing backhoes and the half-dozen cranes that make up the city's temporary skyline.
It is an otherwise unremarkable scene except for one thing: In a down economy, the $1.5 billion City Creek Center is the last of the large, mixed-use projects still going up around the valley.
"Construction ... is well under way, on schedule and increasingly visible above ground," said Dale Bills, spokesman for City Creek Reserve Inc., a development arm of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Richards Court, a pair of 10-story condominium buildings on South Temple, will be ready for tenants in the first quarter of 2010, Bills said. A new City Creek food court will be open this summer.
At the KeyBank Tower, a redesigned lobby and new office space will open later this year.
Construction crews have also begun laying the framework for a retail center on West Temple, just south of what will be a 30-story residential building, Bills said.
When it is finished in 2012, City Creek will be a mix of boutiques, department stores, grocers, restaurants and more than 700 apartments and condominiums — a combination planners hope will pump life back into the city's struggling downtown.
"People on the streets make cities vibrant," said Frank Gray, Salt Lake City's community and economic development director. "Think back 10 years when the city was a bustling place during the day but became vacant at night. People walking around are what makes restaurants and grocers viable. (City Creek) will help move us from a boardroom city to a bedroom city."
The idea follows what developers did with The Gateway on the city's west side, mixing shops and apartments. City Creek is only one of numerous attempts to duplicate on the model on various scales throughout the Salt Lake Valley.
In most cases, however, a tightening credit market has made potential tenants leery of buying, causing lenders to pull funding for construction.
That's not a problem officials foresee afflicting the 20-acre City Creek project.
Where other projects have seen funding dry up, the LDS Church's substantial spending power should keep construction on target for a 2012 deadline.
Meanwhile, the church's development partner said the project's timetable is favorable as officials work to fill City Creek's shops with businesses.
"It's not easy in this economy," said Bruce Heckman, vice president of development for Taubman Centers Inc. "Leasing for projects opening this year is pretty tough for most people because of the uncertainty in the market. I think the fact that (City Creek) doesn't open for a couple more years here keeps it more on the radar than other projects."
The Michigan-based company has locked multiple retail tenants into leases, Heckman said, though he declined to name them or say how many were under contract.
Since its inception, however, City Creek has stirred up plenty of controversy — most notably the protracted battle between developers and the city over construction of a skybridge.
Stephen Goldsmith, a former Salt Lake planner who now teaches at the University of Utah, approached LDS leaders with a plan for the downtown property around the time the Crossroads Mall was demolished.
Goldsmith lamented what he called missed opportunities by City Creek and Taubman to reopen Richards and Regent streets, making downtown more pedestrian friendly.
Still, Goldsmith said City Creek would help revive downtown by luring tenants to the urban core and introducing a 24-hour population to the area.
"The fact that we're getting that mixed-use development down there, despite the problems, it's still a step ahead," he said.
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