A ghost town.

That's what a lot of people think they are looking on these days when they venture over to Triad Center on west South Temple.They see the empty store windows, the shuttered restaurants, the little-used brick walkways, and they remember how it was four years ago when Triad was doing a pretty good impersonation of Manhattan's Rockefeller Center.

Back then, Triad was busy, bustling, alive with lights, people, glittering upscale shops and long black limos that would navigate the circular drive to the front door of the Devereaux Mansion, then Salt Lake's newest and toniest dine-and-be-seen restaurant.

Well, that was then and this is now, as someone said. Yes, Triad Center was a pretty exciting place during its brief heyday as a multipurpose shopping/entertainment/office complex in 1984-85, and if former owner Adnan Khashoggi's grandiose plans for the place had stayed on track, it would have become even more so.

They didn't and it won't, but a ghost town? Hardly. Just ask the 1,522 people who go to work there every day.

Triad is no longer a shopping center and, except for the ice skating rink, its role as an entertainment center is pretty much limited to the shows emanating from KSL Broadcast House. But as an office complex, Triad is holding its own and then some.

During 1988, Triad Center owner The Travelers Cos. "made tremendous progress" in leasing space at the complex, according to Mike McCormick, who manages Triad Center and 15 other properties nationwide for Travelers, which owns and operates some 200 real estate projects nationwide. (Travelers took possession of Triad Center in May 1987 following Saudi Arabian financier Khashoggi's default on a $38.1 million loan.)

The progress McCormick speaks of includes leasing 115,000 square feet of space last year and increasing occupancy from 62 percent when Travelers took over to 72 percent by last December. (The center has 560,000 square feet of leasable space, some of which, such as KSL's, is owned by the tenants.)

Of the Travelers-owned space, McCormick estimates 40 percent remains vacant, higher than he'd like but not anything that can't be handled over the next few years given the recent drop in the downtown office vacancy rate.

"We feel very positive that the Salt Lake market has turned around from where the vast majority of space being leased was in the suburbs to where more is now being leased downtown," said McCormick. "And while the Salt Lake economy is not bursting at the seams, my impression is it is solid, not growing like gangbusters, but solid."

There are no absolutes in love, war and real estate, but McCormick insists that Travelers is in the game for the long haul in Salt Lake City. No, they aren't going to build any new skyscrapers at Triad Center, but capital improvements are constantly being made to keep the property in top shape and improve parking, signs, elevators, lighting and lobby areas.

And the opening of two new restaurants in March and April - Spike's Express and The Carriage House - will liven things up a bit.

Obviously, Travelers' decision- makers would not have consciously set out to build a luxury office complex on Salt Lake City's west side, and if they had, they would not have designed it along the lines of Triad Center. What people see there today was intended to be only a small part of a huge $400 million complex.

But the concept of Khashoggi's master plan was flawed from the start, local real estate experts agree. The scale was too large, the plans too grandiose: two hotels, a pair of residential condominium towers, two 35-story office buildings, an "international bazaar" and much more.

With benefit of hindsight, they wonder how anyone - including lenders on the project - could believe that Salt Lake Valley and its 700,000 population could have supported the ultimate concept of Triad Center even over the long term.

"From a real estate perspective it was nonsensical," said one industry observer. "No one ever asked the hard questions of how to pay for it."

In any case, it's the retail space, now vacant and difficult to convert to usable office space, that is the largest thorn in McCormick's side.

"Triad Center was well built (but) they got ahead of themselves with the retail," said McCormick. "Had they started with more office space and built up slowly to create the amount of retail space we now have, they might have had better success.

"But there are other issues that worked against them that have to do with the lack of a North Temple or west-side freeway access and the (negative image) of the west-side location that still have to be overcome. We are taking the necessary steps to overcome those market issues, but the bottom line is this: In any real estate market today you have to roll up your sleeves and work really hard at it."

On the positive side, McCormick believes the quality of construction at Triad Center is top rate, the amenities are good, parking is sufficient and accessible (although, tenants say, it could have been better designed), the landscaping is a definite plus and congestion is non-existent.

"It could be a lot worse. There are minor problems that we still hope to improve, but there's nothing we have to tear down."

So that's the plan, said McCormick. No big promises about future buildings, just working with what is there to lease it and keep it nice. As KSL noted in an editorial last July, Triad Center is the keystone that has made redevelopment of the downtown west side a fact rather than fancy.

"Certainly, city and county officials would not be as anxious to place a new sports arena on Third West if the Triad buildings were not in place," KSL said.

Thus, despite the anger and frustration Khashoggi left in the wake of his 10-year association with Salt Lake City, his legacy may prove to be a positive one in the long run. In any event, Triad Center is here to stay.