City leaders have long believed Sandy was a first-rate community. Now they say it's first-class.

Sandy's population now exceeds 100,000 - the minimum number required by the state for a city to receive "first-class" designation, said city spokesman Rick Davis.Recent studies put Sandy's population mark at about 101,100. That's almost a 40 percent population jump since 1987, when Sandy had about 72,000 residents, Davis said.

"The growth is a signal that people are finding Sandy a desirable place to live . . . We think we have a product people want," he added.

While the city's residential population has almost topped-out, Davis believes the next phase of remarkable growth will be in Sandy's business community.

"We will double (our businesses) in the next five to 10 years," Davis said. Already the city has two to three times the number of businesses it had just a decade ago.

People used to refer to the South Towne Center mall as "Ghost Town Mall" because of the scant number of people doing business in the area, recalled Davis. Now South Towne is one of the busiest shopping centers in Salt Lake County, he added.

Commercial growth, Davis said, will flush out additional funds for residents and arts and recreation programs.

Unprecedented residential growth has sometimes been a mixed blessing. Astute planning has been vital, and the city has had to hustle to keep infrastructure and municipal services on pace with growth.

The first-class designation, which will not be official until the next national census in 2000, would also open financial avenues for additional bonding and grants.

"Our bond rating could go up," said Davis, adding bonding companies have more confidence in first-class cities because they're less prone to loan defaults.