Just a few days after the pending merger of American Stores and Albertson's was announced Aug. 3, Deedee Corradini and Mike Leavitt were on the phone to set up a meeting with Albertson's brass.
Friday that meeting finally happened, with the Salt Lake mayor and Utah governor flying to Boise to meet with Albertson's chairman Gary Michael to get an idea of how the merger will affect Salt Lake City."I'm optimistic that the commitment is there to Salt Lake City," Corradini said after the meeting. "Obviously we would prefer to have the corporate headquarters here, (but) we trust they want to keep a presence."
The corporate headquarters of the merged corporation, which will be called Albertson's, will be in Albertson's current Boise location.
Details of exactly how the merger is going to work, particularly the impact on the brand-new 25-story blue/gray American Stores office building in downtown Salt Lake City, are sketchy at best. The merger will not close until next year sometime, and there is much to be worked through until then.
How much of the building's American Stores executive staff might be laid off or transferred to Boise remains to be seen. A total of some 1,900 workers are completing their move into the building.
"They don't see the impact on Salt Lake or Boise being that great because (Albertson's) is a decentralized company," said Leavitt, who was comforted and optimistic after the meeting, which was set up to tell the corporation of its importance to the state and "extend our desire to be helpful to them."
"They saw the building as a very important and valuable asset and did not speak of any plans to sell it," he said.
The question of what happens to the building is an important one, given that the $100 million structure was built with the encouragement and money of Salt Lake's Redevelopment Agency in the hopes of bringing in several hundred well-paid executives expected to spread their dollars downtown by shopping, eating and recreating.
"The ultimate goal was to get a higher density of people into down-town to support the downtown," said RDA Director Alice Steiner.
One of the most talked-about aspects of the merger among denizens of downtown is the fate of the extremely popular upscale grocery store and restaurant in the building's lobby.
"I did encourage (Michael) to keep the American Store and the restaurant, and that was well-received," Corradini said.
Legally (city attorneys have checked this out), Albertson's can inherit American Stores' contract with the Salt Lake RDA. The RDA owes American Stores $5.5 million, a debt acquired as part of the incentives to get the company in there in the first place. It is to be paid off over 11 years, but only if American Stores-cum-Albertson's occupies at least 70 percent of the building. If it leases out more than 30 percent, the deal's off.
Right now there's still no telling how much of the 427,000 square feet of office space Albertson's might vacate and lease out. But even should the worst happen and every American Store worker clean out his desk and leave, those in the know say downtown would survive.
Ray Unrath, associate broker with Consolidated Realty Group, said new downtown buildings fill up quickly and that the American Stores tower would be attractive to any number of companies.
"If they chose to leave, it wouldn't wipe downtown off the face of the Earth," Steiner said. "It's only one office building."
So, if Corradini had been able to see the future merger and its concomitant uncertainties, would she have done what she did to get the building built?
"Absolutely," she said. "It's a jewel of downtown."