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SALT LAKE CITY — After years of anticipation, downtown Salt Lake City's newest crown jewel of shopping and economic development opened to the world Thursday with the parting of its signature retractable roof inviting in sunshine, shoppers and the just plain curious.
Dozens camped overnight, lining up along Main Street. Others came in on TRAX, with teenage girls mixing with corporate types as they departed the City Center station to jobs, or now, H&M, Nordstrom, or the 90 other stores and restaurants that make up City Creek Center.
By day's end, City Creek officials predicted the center would meet or exceed the prediction of 50,000 first-day visitors, and they arrived without traffic snarls or significant delays. An indication of the day's success: 75,000 directories were handed out to visitors to help guide them through City Creek during the day.
"This is a momentous day and a momentous time in Salt Lake City," Mayor Ralph Becker said. "This development is unique in America. It is a place where people can live, can work, can shop, can entertain, be entertained and gather."
His comments came in ceremonies formally opening the center shortly before 10 a.m., that included state and local government officials, as well as Thomas S. Monson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and his counselors in the church's First Presidency.
It was President Monson's predecessor, President Gordon B. Hinckley, who first envisioned and proposed the project more than a decade ago to revitalize the city and "protect the environment of the Salt Lake Temple."
Speaking on behalf of the church, President Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the First Presidency, said City Creek is now ready to invite the world to downtown Salt Lake City.
"Everything that we see around us is evidence of the long-standing commitment of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to Salt Lake City," he said. "Downtown, thanks to so many, is indeed rising."
Taubman Inc., the owner of the retail portion of the project and the church's partner in City Creek, will oversee the operations for the stores and restaurants in the estimated $1.5 billion mixed-use development.
"We are just thrilled to open our first shopping center in the great state of Utah in Salt Lake City," Robert Taubman, president, chairman and chief executive officer of Taubman Centers, said. "We are very proud of the shopping environment we've created."
So were the shoppers who made the trek into Salt Lake City.
• Godiva opened and sold 1,000 pieces of chocolate.
• Footlocker reported one of the best openings ever had by any of its stores across the country.
• Lush, an international retailer of unique bath and beauty products, sold 350 "bath bombs" within 5 hours.
Cristina Lawrence and her daughter, Courtney, drove in from Kaysville and parked in City Creek Center's 5,000-stall underground parking garage.
"I don't know if we lucked out, but we found (a parking spot) right away," Lawrence said.
Lisha Wood, a Provo native who now lives in Seattle, also had little trouble finding a place to park.
"There was plenty of parking," Wood said. "And the parking garage is nice. The floors are so clean. I was impressed."
There are 5,000 covered parking stalls spanning 4 levels, with six entrances, among the 15,000 parking spaces around the downtown core, many established in support of the City Creek development.
But with more than 500 new residential units, light-rail, and the recently opened Harmons Grocery on 100 South, the city center has become a live-work environment that encourages walking.
"We have much to be proud of associated with this development," Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker said. "We hope everyone will come out and enjoy it … throughout the region and help us celebrate downtown rising and the incredible experience and renaissance we're going through in Salt Lake City."
Hundreds of small groups gathered throughout the day around the fountain, drawing children to its dancing waters. Others grabbed lunch at the food court and headed outside to eat on the cushioned chairs that surround the fire pit, or in the courtyard dotted with chairs and tables.
Angelica Rojas, from West Valley City, lined up outside H&M at 9:30 p.m. Wednesday and stayed all night. "(City Creek) will draw a lot of people to Utah and bring more money to the state," she said.
Salt Lake City residents were equally enthusiastic.
"It's a smart thing to have because a lot of travelers that go to Temple Square can come over here. It has a lot of the high-end stores that Utah doesn't have that will be a big draw for a lot of people," said Dustin Mack, who was also waiting for stores to open early today. "This is new age. This is cool."
Gov. Gary Herbert predicted the project would aid in transforming and revitalizing the city:
"This is going to be an asset to our entire state … throughout the Intermountain West and throughout the country. This is a milestone and part of a new beginning for our downtown rising in Salt Lake City."
The Olympic Games 10 years ago brought economic vitality and the same sense of pride on exhibit Thursday. But the event came and went in a few short weeks. Taubman officials called the development of City Creek an economic driver that would last for years to come.
"This is the beginning of a rebirth, a redevelopment and a reinvestment in the city," he said. "This decision (to build City Creek Center) will really enhance and pay dividends for many generations for all the people of Salt Lake City and the state of Utah."
The retail and dining portion of City Creek Center features outdoor walkways, retractable roofs, a pedestrian bridge over Main Street and a creek that winds through the property.
Dale Bills, spokesman for City Creek Reserve Inc. — the property developer owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — said extra customer service personnel were on hand Thursday to "make sure everything goes as smooth as possible and people are comfortable getting in and out."
Ultimately, it was up to the visitors to offer the first-day assessment of City Creek:
"This is awesome for Salt Lake," said Daniel Joseph, who lives in the city. "It's going to bring a big-city feel. It's good."