SALT LAKE CITY — Watching the retractable roof close over City Creek Center gave the distinct impression that this place will definitely be something special.
The technological marvel was one of the crowning achievements of the teams of design architects and construction crews who have spent months on the estimated $1.5 billion downtown development that is expected to revitalize Salt Lake City's central business district.
According to the official City Creek countdown clock Wednesday, there are 147 days before the grand opening of the much-anticipated completion of downtown Salt Lake City's largest ever commercial and residential development.
And from the looks of things, the construction crews at City Creek Center are making good progress.
Members of the media were given a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the work currently under way at the landmark development. The project will cover three downtown blocks with 6 acres of landscaped open space.
Upon completion, City Creek will feature approximately 700,000 square feet of shopping and dining space, along with 536 new condominiums or apartments.
Among the unique features of the 23-acre development are the aforementioned fully retractable glass roof, a skybridge over Main Street and a realistic re-creation of City Creek, the snow-fed stream that once meandered through the city.
"This is … the ultimate shopping and dining experience," said Ron Loch, vice president of planning and design for Taubman Centers Inc.
The 30,000-square-foot retractable roof takes roughly 4 ½ minutes to open or close.
"We have the ability to really embrace the outdoors, the beauty of Salt Lake and the blue skies," Loch said. "But we also have the ability to close the roof … to heat (the shopping area) on cooler days or (provide shelter) when it's raining."
Other design features that Taubman officials say will make City Creek Center a unique and popular place to visit include a pair of 18-foot-tall waterfalls and a four-sided fireplace surrounded by what Loch calls an "outdoor living room," where visitors can relax, read or socialize.
"It's really about leisure, about enjoying your visit," he said.
Taubman will operate the retail portion of the project, which will contain 80 stores and restaurants. Headquartered in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., the company currently operates 26 retail shopping centers across the country, with six others in development — including properties in Asia and Puerto Rico.
To date, Taubman has invested approximately $76 million into the project, according to Linda Wardell, general manager.
"We expect the center to generate about 2,000 permanent jobs," Wardell said, adding that it will be "a significant boost to the local economy."
Taubman has worked closely with local tourism to create an inviting environment for visitors, including designing a flight board where people can monitor their air travel status as well as weather at area ski resorts and in cities around the country where they might be traveling.
Another program will offer shoppers "passports to savings."
"For anyone who visits us from more than 50 miles away, we'll have both motor coach and hotel packages available," Wardell explained. "We're certainly trying to think of everything we can to accommodate our visitors."
Retail tenants at City Creek Center are expected to begin construction on their shops "in the next few days" and will continue right up to the project's grand opening March 22, 2012.
Considering the challenging economic circumstance facing cities nationwide, Wardell acknowledged that a lot is riding on the success of the high-profile mixed-use project.
The International Council of Shopping Centers has said that City Creek Center will be the only retail center opening in the U.S. in 2012, Wardell noted.
"That really puts Salt Lake City on the map in an entirely new way," she said. "We are receiving inquiries from all over the world every day, so we know that we've got to have a significant tourism program to be able to accommodate those inquiries for some time."
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