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Keith Johnson, Deseret News
Edward Gray, visiting Salt Lake from Atlanta, takes a look at the ongoing City Creek construction through one of the observation windows on Main Street in downtown Salt Lake.

It took 20 months and 25 appearances before Salt Lake City government boards and commissions, but The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints now has all the official approval it needs to remake the heart of downtown.

The city's Historic Landmark Commission issued the final stamp of approval for City Creek Center Wednesday night, unanimously supporting the conceptual design for reconstruction of the historic ZCMI facade as part of the $1.5 billion project.

"This is an important decision for us," said Dale Bills, spokesman for City Creek Reserve Inc., a development arm of the LDS Church. "We're grateful to the commission for their careful deliberation and their recommendations."

The ZCMI facade, a staple of downtown since the 1870s, is slated to return to Main Street as the storefront for Macy's. Plans call for the department store to serve with Nordstrom as co-anchors for the 20-acre retail, residential and office development.

The developers needed permission from the Historic Landmark Commission because the facade is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Wednesday, developers presented a revised design of the new building using the historic facade in response to concerns expressed by the Historic Landmarks Commission at a June 4 meeting.

Commissioners didn't like the idea of a recessed entrance that created a galleria or corridor between the facade and the actual store, saying it was not street-friendly and made the facade feel more like an intrusion than an asset.

Another issue was the opaque glass planned for the second- and third-level windows, which some commissioners felt created dead space.

Working with the city's architectural review committee, the developers did away with the set-back entrance and modified their plans for the windows to meet commissioners' approval.

The revised design calls for most of the street-level windows to be used for displays, replacing what had been the recessed entrance. Upper-level windows will use reflective glass with lighting hidden between the facade and the new building to illuminate the historic architecture.

Kirk Huffaker, executive director of the Utah Heritage Foundation, said many buildings historically were lit in a similar fashion.

"I think it's a great plan," Huffaker said during the public discussion. "I commend this version."

The three-story ZCMI facade underwent careful disassembly last fall and was put into storage so the old Macy's building could be demolished.

The Historic Landmark Commission approved that action in June 2007, along with developers' plans to move the new Macy's building — and the facade — 25 feet to the north at approximately 15 S. Main.

The approved design calls for the new building to be the same height as the facade, leaving the decorative peak atop the facade to stand alone as it did in 1910 — unlike the most recent reconstruction in the 1970s.

The facade was part of the original Zion's Cooperative Mercantile Institution, which was founded in March 1868.

Martha Sonntag Bradley, a Utah historian and a professor in the University of Utah's College of Architecture and Planning, has called ZCMI "America's first department store," where LDS settlers gathered to sell their goods.

The original ZCMI facade was constructed in three phases in 1876, 1880 and 1901, according to city planning documents. The structure to be re-installed is both a remnant of that facade and a re-creation from the 1970s, when the ZCMI Center was built.

The May Co. purchased the store in 1999 and converted it into a Meier & Frank. In 2006, Federated Department Stores bought May Co., and Utah's Meier & Frank stores — including the downtown location — became Macy's.

City Creek Center is expected to attract 10 million people annually when complete in 2012.

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