Jeffrey D. Allred, Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
City Creek Center developers unveiled the formal countdown clock that will constantly remind passersby of the impending grand opening scheduled for March 22, 2012, on Tuesday, March 22, 2011, in Salt Lake City.

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When the ribbon is cut this morning, the City Creek Center in downtown Salt Lake City will represent the rarest of urban features in a struggling economy. It will be, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers, the only retail center opening in the United States in 2012.

And what a center. The $1.5 billion project includes 700,000 square feet of shopping and dining, 536 new living spaces (condominiums and apartments), a meandering creek that re-creates the natural City Creek that once came through the city above ground, a skybridge across Main Street and 30,000 square feet of retractable glass roof that can be opened or closed, depending on the weather.

Best of all, the project used no tax dollars, yet it promises to provide huge tax benefits as it attracts visitors and new residents to the city's urban core. That, in turn, will lend a vibrant air to downtown that has been missing in recent years. Its construction helped building trades weather hard economic times, and its opening will, we hope, catch the wave of an economic rebound and build excitement for all that Utah's capital city has to offer. Built by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which owns this newspaper, it will complement the church's Temple Square, which is the state's most popular tourist attraction.

The past 15 years or so have been tough on downtown retailers. First came the construction of TRAX along Main Street and 400 South, followed closely by the reconstruction of I-15 through Salt Lake County. Both were impediments to shoppers and visitors, and both accelerated the decline of retail in the city's core. Now those days are over. With Gateway and the City Creek Center completed, and with an expanded I-15, TRAX and FrontRunner connecting the city to much of the Wasatch Front, business downtown can be set for a long run of strong growth.

Four years of construction is a long time. Along the way, the project had to break with some old assumptions and establish new visions. The skybridge, for instance, goes against recommendations by urban planners as far back as 1988, who had warned against such structures as pulling people away from street-level shopping. In reality, the bridge that spans Main Street will allow easy access to the street level while also seamlessly connecting the new center on both sides of Main Street. Thankfully, the City Council understood this in 2008 and approved the design.

Years from now, we expect the City Creek Center to remain the center of a vibrant business district that continues to grow upward and outward. Today is a day for enjoying the start of this remarkable new urban amenity.