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Means: City Creek a shopping success, but not yet a civic center

Published March 21, 2013 1:34 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

What difference does a year make? In the case of the City Creek Center, which marks its first anniversary Friday, not much.

The gleam of elegant high-end stores and colorful youth-oriented retail is still shining in downtown Salt Lake City's centerpiece shopping center, which has become a regular destination for splurging shoppers and lunch-seeking office workers.

As my Tribune colleague Dawn House reported this week, the shopping center — part of a $2 billion office/residential complex built by the business arm of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — has been exceeding the expectations of its management and economic-development officials.

City Creek representatives report occupancy is around 98 percent, House wrote, and the shopping center has drawn 16.2 million visits in the past year. City Creek's neighbors have mixed reports of how much business has improved.

Money may be the most easily quantifiable measure of City Creek's success, but it's not the only one. There are other ways the shiny new downtown spot has changed Salt Lake City.

A buffer zone for Temple Square • For faithful members of the LDS Church, Temple Square is a sacred space — and the church's investment in the land to the south, sometimes labeled the "Vaticanization" of downtown, aims to keep it that way.

This is a serious issue in other cities. In San Antonio, officials have railed about how the storefronts across the street from The Alamo — that shrine of Texas liberty — have become a collection of tacky tourist traps, from T-shirt shops to a Ripley's Believe It or Not! attraction. (The Texas Legislature is considering a bill to create a museum district around The Alamo, in hopes of improving the site.)

By building City Creek, the LDS Church has already accomplished that. Now a visitor exiting the Tabernacle can walk south and find the flagship Deseret Book store — the functional equivalent of a Temple Square gift shop, but a rather fancy one.

Provides groceries • The arrival of the Harmons supermarket, across State Street, is a case of not knowing what you're missing until you get it back.

It has been ages since downtown office workers and residents had a supermarket within walking distance. It's become a handy stopover to pick up a few things before heading home, and a destination for lunch to rival City Creek's busy food court.

Promotes exercise • The anecdotal stories of City Creek security personnel kicking out loiterers are probably exaggerated, but still the vibe isn't too friendly to those who aren't there to get in, buy stuff and get out. It's not a place for lingering, but for purposeful strides. So if you need a spur on your workout routine, start walking through City Creek — and keep walking.

Fosters nightlife • City Creek is helping establish a nighttime destination spot in downtown Salt Lake City, and just not at City Creek.

No, City Creek after hours is the land of the proverbial rolled-up sidewalks, with only one of its two its chain restaurants — The Cheesecake Factory — open after 10 p.m. on a Friday. Meanwhile, the shopping center's closed-on-Sunday policy (again, except The Cheesecake Factory) and the LDS Church-imposed limits on alcohol sales discouraged other entertainment venues from opening there.

City Creek's loss in nightlife is an opportunity for other downtown sites — particularly The Gateway, a few blocks west, which is slowly recovering from the loss of more than a dozen retailers that moved for City Creek. The Gateway does have destinations: the Clark Planetarium, the Discovery Gateway children's museum, the new Urban Arts Gallery, a long row of restaurants and the Megaplex 12 movie theaters.

And The Gateway announced this week it is mounting a $2 million renovation to bolster the shopping center's image as a place for the community to gather. The Gateway already does a lot in community relations: It's home to the St. Patrick's Day parade, the University of Utah's homecoming pep rally and a holiday tree-lighting concert.

City Creek Center has just begun to establish its own traditions — bringing back the Christmas candy windows in the old ZCMI façade was a good start. But the new shiny shopping center has a way to go before it's more than a place where people can be separated painlessly from their money.

Sean P. Means writes The Cricket in daily blog form, at http://www.sltrib.com/blogs/moviecricket. Follow him on Twitter @moviecricket, and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/seanpmeans.