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Small merchants, restaurants not seeing benefits of City Creek

Massive downtown development has yet to provide much-needed boost.

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But it hasn’t been that way since, which has led O’Mara and other merchants to wonder whether even their good fortune on City Creek’s grand opening weekend had more to do with the massive convention staged downtown by Adobe Systems than City Creek Center. About 4,000 people attended the conference at the Calvin L. Rampton Salt Palace Convention Center March 21-23.

O’Mara remains hopeful that over the long term, shoppers who come to City Creek Center will explore the rest of Main Street. "I’m optimistic that once people see the mall, they’ll explore the rest of downtown and discover all the locally owned stores and restaurants. I’m hoping that will happen because it’s been quiet for such a long time down here."

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Downtown merchants and restaurants have suffered through light-rail construction in the late 1990s and City Creek Center construction in the past several years, both of which had undoubtedly kept people away.

O’Mara said the years it took to build City Creek Center — and the overall City Creek project — were difficult. Many people stayed away as blocks of downtown were torn up, buildings were demolished and the area was redeveloped. There’s still a perception that parking is an issue, she says.

Linda Wardell, general manager of City Creek Center, said City Creek Center’s huge parking garage with multiple access points makes parking downtown easy — whether you’re headed to her mall or other downtown businesses.

"Park here and enjoy the whole downtown experience," she said.

The first hour of parking at City Creek Center is free; park for two hours or less, and you’ll pay $1; three hours or less is $2; four hours or less is $5 and five hours or less is $8.

"As locals start venturing back downtown, they’ll realize it isn’t just a big construction zone and will see all that the city has to offer," said Fred Moesinger of Caffe Molise, who said he’s seen more traffic on the weekends since City Creek opened, but no difference on weekdays. "There is a lot of energy and excitement around the opening of the City Creek. It’ll take a little more time to build, but it is going to be great for downtown."

In the months leading up to City Creek’s opening, a dozen new small retailers and restaurants had opened along Main Street with the same hope; even Starbucks is moving from the Marriott City Center on State Street to be closer to City Creek. (The mall itself has no Starbucks.)

Whether City Creek Center will be a benefit remains to be seen, said Jason Mathis, executive director of the Downtown Alliance, an advocacy group for downtown. He’s not surprised that many people visiting City Creek Center for the first time aren’t venturing beyond its walls given everything there is to see in the huge project. He’s confident that on subsequent visits, when the newness has worn off, people will be more likely to explore the rest of downtown.

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While most downtown merchants say the hoped-for benefits of City Creek Center have yet to materialize, at least the project isn’t hurting their enterprises.

At Martine, Grant says City Creek Center’s comparatively limited eating options help soften any negative effects a massive mall with new restaurants could have on his eatery.

In terms of restaurants, only The Cheesecake Factory and Texas de Brazil Churrascaria are open on Sundays, while everything else in the shopping center is closed.

Those also are the only two eateries that serve alcohol. In fact it is written into Nordstrom’s lease that the Sixth and Pine restaurant on the second floor of its new City Creek Store is alcohol-free, a nod to Taubman’s partner — the LDS Church, whose members eschew alcohol.

"We’ve had some Nordstrom shoppers come over here for a drink and some tapas," Grant said. And some in search of a Sunday meal have opted for his restaurant over the two City Creek Center choices.

But even those scenarios don’t happen with enough frequency to make much of a difference over sales levels before City Creek’s debut.

"We thought it would be a lot more vibrant down here after it opened," Grant said. "It’s disappointing."

Greg Nielsen, office manager with Naked Fish Bistro on 100 South, said he doesn’t understand all the fuss over The Cheescake Factory. But he says he understands it’s not as if those who visit City Creek snub his restaurant on purpose. "I don’t know if people visiting City Creek even know we’re here," he said.

Lesley Mitchell writes One Cheap Chick in daily blog form at blogs.sltrib.com/cheap. lesley@sltrib.com Twitter: @cheapchick Facebook.com/OneCheapChick

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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