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SALT LAKE CITY — Next month Salt Lake City is expected to finally celebrate the grand opening of the state's most highly anticipated retail project in more than a decade. City Creek Center is scheduled to open its doors March 22.
During an exclusive tour for the Deseret News and KSL on Thursday, work crews clad in orange and green vests with hard hats stood on ladders and wielded tools — the sound of saws, drills and hammers echoing throughout the property. The workers could be seen moving in and out of the area as they bring in interiors for the retail stores now under construction.
While the vast majority of the construction work is complete, crews are still busy building out the individual retail spaces and putting the final touches on the remaining unfinished public areas from early in the morning to late at night.
City Creek general manager Linda Wardell said that despite the long hours, there is a great deal of enthusiasm and anticipation from staff and workers about the impending grand opening.
"We've been working on this project for a long time and to know that it is just ... days away from opening," she said. "We're just so excited!"
The architectural details in the public areas show an artistic design that incorporates the unique natural beauty that signifies Utah — use of large red rock to create a comforting desert landscape where visitors will enjoy scenic sky-lit views whether the retractable roof is open or closed.
In the coming weeks, the various fountains will be tested, including one that will have a fire feature as well. Wardell said the center's giant granite fireplace is also ready.
She said the feature, set just inside the South Temple entrance, was designed to serve as one of the major meeting areas of the center. People will say, "Lets meet by the fireplace," Wardell predicted.
As for the retail space, shopping center officals said leasing for the downtown mall is now 92 percent complete. Taubman Inc., the company that manages the retail portion of the project, said it will release the names of the approximately 80 stores that will be in the shopping center on March 1, in anticipation of a month-long marketing campaign marking the center's opening.
But 66 stores and 9 restaurants are publicly listed with Salt Lake City seeking building improvement permits at the City Creek site.
High profile retailers such as Coach, Brooks Brothers, and Tiffany & Co will join well-known chain eateries like Cheesecake Factory and Texas de Brazil Brazilian steakhouse at the estimated $1.5 billion, 700,000-square-foot shopping and entertainment center.
Other companies listed with the city are Abercrombie & Fitch, American Eagle, Ann Taylor, Banana Republic and BCBG — clothing companies bookended by anchor retailers Macy's and Nordstrom's.
Disney will be there, and J.Crew, Express and Fanzz. Footlocker and Aldo will offer footwear; Forever 21 will appeal to — those who are forever 21. Restoration Hardware is moving from Trolley Square, and Rocky Mountain Chocolate has taken out a permit. Employees of Mr. Mac were moving merchandise from its store on South Temple to its new location in City Creek.
Taubman showed the first signs of its marketing campaign last week as it unveiled billboards and building wraps on display in and around the downtown area. It's a strategy designed to "generate the most buzz" about the historic project, Linda Wardell, City Creek Center general manager, said.
City Creek Center has drawn the attention of retail analysts nationally and internationally as one of the only major retail projects going online in the U.S. in 2012.
Even with the global eye of the retail world watching, Wardell said she does not feel burdened by pressure. She said she is buoyed by the support offered by staff as well as the project's development partner, City Creek Reserve — the for-profit development arm of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
"I'm confident that we can deliver a world class to Salt Lake City," she said. "There are hundreds of people working on the start-up for the center. And that will continue for the next 30 days."
Although a number of retailers are leaving The Gateway for City Creek Center, Wardell believes both shopping centers will be able to coexist.
"I think it's natural that some retailers are attracted to this project and are going to want to move here from other locations," Wardell said. "What makes Salt Lake City such an attractive place to shop is that there are two downtown locations where people can choose to shop and dine. And we've said all along that there are some things that Gateway is going to have some things that City Creek Center won't offer."
She said the Gateway would still draw consumers for the Clark Planetarium, IMAX theater, Discovery Gateway children's museum and its proximity to Energy Solutions Area.
"Certainly, City Creek Center and Gateway are synergistic." she said.
Opened in Nov. 2001, the $375 million Gateway project, built by Salt Lake-based The Boyer Co., included 400,000 square feet of office space, 675,000 of retail and entertainment space, along with high-end condominiums and apartments.
At the time, critics argued that the new open air shopping center would pull business away from the independent "Main Street" shops, putting even more pressure on the already struggling central city shopping district. Now, the roles are reversed.
A spokesperson for The Gateway said despite some of the recent turnover, the development has successfully positioned itself as the premier shopping and dining destination in the Salt Lake region.
"We will continue to be an active lifestyle center serving the public seven days a week,' said director of marketing Heather Nash. "New retailers that will be opening soon include Bettie Page, Francesca's Collections and Epic Board Shop, and our leasing team continues to meet with local and national retailers and we will make announcements as these deals are finalized."
As for the progress of City Creek Center, Wardell said the project is on schedule for its expected March 22 opening date.
"It's sort of like waiting for Christmas to come when you're a child," she said. "We can hardly wait to get there."
Here are the names of retailers who have taken out improvement permits with Salt Lake City:
2. Abercrombie & Fitch
3. Aldo Shoes
4. Allen Edmonds
5. American Eagle
6. Ann Taylor
8. Banana Republic
9. Bauers Fashion Eyewear
13. Brighton Collectibles
14. Brooks Brothers
18. Clark's Shoes
20. Cotton On
25. Forever 21
31. J. Crew
33. Kay Jewelers
38. Love Cultures
41. Michael Kors
42. Microsoft Retail
43. Mr. Mac
46. OC Tanner Rolex
47. Pandora Jewelry
50. Restoration Hardware
51. Rocky Mountain Chocolate
53. Steve Madden
54. Sunglass Hut
56. The Gym
57. The Limited
59. Tricked Out
60. True Religion Jeans
63. White Box Space
64. White House Black Market
65. Yankee Candle
1. Big Sal's
2. Blue Lemon
3. Cheesecake Factory
7. Suki Hana
9. Texas De Brazil