Salt Lake City is a downtown divided.

While downtown businesses are yoked through their various affiliates — the Salt Lake Chamber, Downtown Alliance, the Downtown Merchants Association and the Vest Pocket Coalition — rarely have the members of these usually unified groups been so divided.

The issue: Will the Salt Lake City Council, acting as the Redevelopment Agency board, allow Nordstrom to move three blocks west, out of Crossroads mall on Main Street, to the Boyer Co.'s sprawling mixed-use development, The Gateway?

To facilitate the move, the RDA would have to grant a waiver to the so-called 45,000-square-foot rule, which forbids stores greater than 45,000 square feet from opening at The Gateway. Also, the city would have to undertake a four- to six-month process of rezoning The Gateway to allow for department stores.

With a public hearing on the move set for Thursday, city leaders already have been bombarded with opinions from the divided downtown.

"Nordstrom's move to Gateway will be a violation of justice, integrity and basic business ethics," said Briant Stringham, Jr., chairman of the board of Utah Woolen Mills, which has done business downtown for 78 years.

Deborah Nielsen, president of the United Way of Salt Lake, located downtown for 25 years, counters:

"It is not the prerogative of the City Council, the mayor or anyone else to decide for Nordstrom that it must remain on Main Street. It is a business decision that Nordstrom must be allowed to make for itself."

And so the two sides are set.

Usually the RDA board doesn't take public comment at its meetings. By law it's not required to. However, with so much interest, the RDA couldn't help but take remarks.

Meanwhile, opinions continue to filter in. The Salt Lake Chamber issued a statement over the weekend urging the RDA to abandon the 45,000-square-foot rule, originally adopted to prevent stores like Nordstrom from leaving Main Street for The Gateway.

"The board believes that the current 45,000-square-foot restriction, added after the development was approved, does not benefit the downtown, the city or the region," the statement says. "The Gateway needs flexibility to meet changing conditions in the marketplace."

As a counter punch, dozens of downtown businesses and their managers and owners took out a full-page advertisement in the city's two major newspapers urging against the move.

"If Nordstrom relocates to The Gateway, it will significantly imperil the future of Main Street retail," the ad states.

When the Boyer Co. decided May 15 would be the day it took its case for Nordstrom to move to The Gateway before the Salt Lake City Redevelopment Agency board, it thought The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would've already offered Nordstrom a deal to stay at Crossroads.

Given Nordstrom's persistent attitude that it won't stay on Main Street, Boyer expected the retailer would reject the LDS Church's offer. Thus, with rejection in hand, the church — not wanting to see Nordstrom leave town — would likely support the retailer's move to The Gateway.

But Boyer's expectations have not come true.

The LDS Church said last week it wants more time to give Nordstrom an offer to stay at a redeveloped Crossroads. The RDA board should wait to make a decision, the church said.

But Boyer continues to insist the council should vote Thursday rather than wait.

"We're still going to ask them to take it to a vote," company vice president Jake Boyer said Monday.

Meanwhile, a few undecided members of the council seem more and more willing to wait. Also, Council chairman Carlton Christensen, who has said he will vote against the move, is getting a legal opinion to see if he will have to recuse himself from all Nordstrom-related proceedings. Christensen works for Zions Securities, Inc., which manages many of Property Reserve Inc.'s properties. PRI is the real estate arm of the LDS Church, which is buying Crossroads mall.


E-mail: bsnyder@desnews.com