SALT LAKE CITY — The Mormon church is attempting to remake downtown Salt Lake City by opening the shopping mall portion of a $2 billion mixed-use space that spans two city blocks.
Church partner and retail operator Taubman Centers Inc. expect 50,000 visitors on Thursday, when City Creek Center's nearly 90 stores open.
City Creek Center has outdoor walkways, retractable glass roofs and a winding creek. Waterfalls, fountains and a trout pond are part of the village-like development, which includes condominiums and is joined by a pedestrian bridge over Main Street.
The residential towers were built by City Creek Reserve Inc., a for-profit firm owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The church is a multibillion-dollar organization with tentacles in business and real estate.
The church paid for City Creek Center with cash and says no member tithing was used. For the most part, it will be like other shopping malls, except that the stores close on Sundays — the church wanted the day of peace for its nearby Temple Square.
It will be operated like Taubman Centers' other upscale malls in Los Angeles and Denver, said Robert Taubman, chairman, president and CEO of the Bloomfield Hills, Mich.-based company. Two of the restaurants at the Salt Lake City mall will serve liquor, but there are no bars. Its anchors include Macy's, Nordstrom, Tiffany & Co. and the Swedish fashion chain H&M.
Built during the recession, which lowered construction costs, City Creek Center is the only large mall of its size — around 700,000 square feet — scheduled to open in the country this year, officials said.
"It's about the rebirth of this city and the fabric of downtown," said Robert Taubman, chairman, president and CEO of Bloomfield Hills, Mich.-based Taubman Centers Inc., who said the design of City Creek Center was unique.
"We opened the mall to the sky and sunny weather that's here with these amazing retractable roofs," he said.
No other U.S. shopping center has retractable roofs, says Linda Wardell, City Creek Center's general manager.
"It's sort of like owning a convertible," she said, adding that the world's only other retail center with retractable roofs is in Dubai, on the Persian Gulf.
For years, the vibe of the city's downtown has been sluggish, with few pedestrians. Boosters hope City Creek Center can recapture a sense of the crowded sidewalks and excitement of the 1950s, before people began to disperse across the Salt Lake valley.
The Mormon church owns a wide swath of downtown, where it keeps a headquarters tower, a sacred temple and tabernacle and a 21,000-seat Conference Center. With its retail development, many residents credit the church for having the vision and the deep pockets needed to remake the city's core.
But the Salt Lake Tribune took a measured approach in an editorial on Wednesday, saying: "Whether City Creek Center can meet our towering expectations for the city's economic future is debatable."
Others see City Creek Center as an unabashed symbol of the Mormon church's power in Utah and possibly an effort to draw more people into its fold.
"They want to bring more people downtown to build up the kingdom of God," said Perry Knuth, a barber whose shop is about three blocks away.