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City Creek prepares for LDS General Conference weekend

Published: Monday, March 26 2012 4:38 p.m. MDT

With the skybridge in the forground at right, shoppers enjoy the City Creek Center in Salt Lake City, Monday, March 26, 2012.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

Top list: City Creek Center shops and stores

City Creek Center photo gallery: A view from demolition to construction in downtown Salt Lake City

SALT LAKE CITY — The debut of City Creek Center exceeded expectations, but owners of the shops and stores that constitute the mixed-use downtown destination are bracing for more, possibly larger, crowds in its second weekend.

Scott Trotter, spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, estimated that 115,000 people will visit downtown during the church's two-day general conference on Saturday and Sunday. City Creek officials expect some of those visitors to make their way to the new shopping center and are preparing to usher in a second wave of curious guests.

Linda Wardell, City Creek Center's general manager, said officials estimate at least 60,000 people visited the shopping center each day during its opening weekend, a 20 percent increase over their projected expectations.

"This exceeded any grand opening I've ever seen," she said.

Leading up to the opening, officials sought to mitigate traffic congestion by distributing information on parking for the center and encouraging visitors to utilize TRAX and other forms of public transportation. On Friday night, Main Street was shut down to vehicle traffic between South Temple and 100 South.

UTA spokesman Gerry Carpenter said rider data weren't available for specifically the downtown TRAX stops but that for the entire TRAX system, Thursday and Friday had approximately 15,000 more boardings than average. Saturday saw the biggest jump — helped by a Jazz game and the LDS Church's General Young Women Meeting in addition to the City Creek opening — nearly doubling the average with 65,500 boardings.

"I think people recognized that downtown streets are congested," he said. "That helps the entire transportation system."

Most City Creek stores contacted by the Deseret News declined to disclose sales data, but were pleased with how the first days of business had gone.

The Cheesecake Factory sold around 1,200 pieces of cheesecake on its opening day, about double what it expects on an average Thursday, according to senior director of marketing Alethea Rowe. She said they were at or near capacity for most of the weekend.

Nearby in the food court, Chic-fil-A sold 4,000 meals each day. Owner Andrew Allman said that the weekend doubled or tripled his expectations.

"At peak time we were serving a meal every five seconds," he said.

Allman said his store broke every Chick-fil-A opening record in Utah and that the City Creek store is on track to become the No. 1 mall restaurant of the franchise in the country.

He said many of his customers on Saturday were young women — presumably going to or coming from the LDS conference — and that this weekend he's expecting a lot of white shirts and ties.

"We're gearing up," he said.

Julie Peterson, director of the City Creek Tiffany & Co. store, did not have exact numbers available but said their opening drew an enthusiastic response from the community and saw nice sales in yellow diamonds and engagement and celebration rings. She said with the number of out-of-town and out-of-state visitors at the LDS general conference, she expected a similar amount of business this weekend. 

BJ Stringham, vice president of Utah Woolen Mills, said the opening went as expected and was an even split between male and female shoppers. While Utah Woolen Mills is part of City Creek and expanded its display area to coincide with the opening, the store has been located on South Temple for 35 years, off the main interior path of the center.

Stringham said he's grateful for the location. The store saw increased foot traffic during the center's grand opening but loyal customers were still able to stop in quickly without navigating the crowds. Stringham said that during construction of City Creek, Utah Woolen Mills was mostly a destination business for repeat customers.

"It's nice to actually have some neighbors and to have good neighbors," he said.

Top list: City Creek Center shops and stores

City Creek Center photo gallery: A view from demolition to construction in downtown Salt Lake City

E-mail: benwood@desnews.com

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