With earth-movers thundering in the background, the long-delayed, on-again off-again Sugar House Center retail development finally got under way Tuesday with groundbreaking ceremonies by developer Clark Financial Corp.

The 17-acre complex will include a new 94,000-square-foot ShopKo store as the anchor tenant. In addition, developers said the retail complex will have several chain restaurants, including Red Lobster, The Olive Garden and Hardee's, an eight-screen movie theater and more than 230,000 square feet of retail space that will house a variety of retail shops.Construction was originally scheduled to begin last spring with completion by next summer. Clark Financial President Spence Clark said completion is now scheduled for fall 1991.

In the planning stages for as long as 23 years, the project, bordered by 1100 East, 1300 East, Simpson Avenue and I-80, got the go-ahead last April when the Salt Lake City Council voted to give Clark Financial a $900,000 loan through its Redevelopment Agency to help develop the complex despite a dispute over taxes allegedly unpaid by Clark Financial.

The city also "donated" three streets, Simpson, Stringham and Wilmington Avenues, to the project. Clark told the Deseret News that the second phase now under construction is a $20 million development. The first phase was the 110,000-square-foot Parkview Plaza office building on 1300 East and Simpson Avenue.

Under a yellow canopy on Simpson Avenue, Mayor Palmer DePaulis, members of the City Council and local dignitaries went to the podium to praise the project as the catalyst that will rescue the Sugar House business district from the urban decay that has plagued the area for 20 years. Many landmark Sugar House businesses have closed.

DePaulis spoke of an endless stream of obstacles that had to be overcome before work could finally begin, obstacles that he said only made him "more resolute than ever" that the project would go forward.

"This will be a new look and a new beginning for Sugar House," said the mayor.

Clark, a longtime Sugar House resident, said he drove through the business district one day 23 years ago and was hit by the realization that it was dying. He decided to try and stop that from happening, a decision that set in motion what may be the longest and most convoluted development of a shopping center in the nation.

"This is the first major development in Sugar House in 35 years," Clark told the gathering, noting that the project has taken so long to come to fruition that many were convinced it would never happen. "I wanted to get going on it but it just wouldn't come together," said Clark, who originally envisioned a closed regional mall of New York luxury stores such as Sak's Fifth Avenue and Lord & Taylor.

Those stores eventually told him they wouldn't be coming to Utah "for 20 years," said Clark, and so the plan eventually evolved into the current configuration of what he termed a 350,000-square-foot "power strip center."

Clark jokingly told the gathering that he was thinking of applying to the Guinness Book of Records for the "most expensive land warehousing project" ever undertaken and said he doubted if it would ever return a profit to his company because of the years of paying interest on non-productive land.

In addition to the new facilities, he said most of the existing stores on Simpson Avenue and 1100 East will be remodeled to fit the overall red-brick exterior theme of the new facilities. He said many of the current tenants, including Ogden's Carpets, Fashion Gal and Pay Less will remain in the complex.

He also agreed that the project would be a catalyst for renovation for all of Sugar House to its days as "the sweetest spot on earth."

Zions First National Bank provided the construction loan for the project.