The price tag is double initial estimates. And whatever the church is doing with all that money, the preliminary design has impressed mall critic Mayor Rocky Anderson.
The mayor met with LDS Presiding Bishop H. David Burton, who is in charge of the mall makeovers, at Burton's office Thursday. And while Anderson has criticized the church for its secrecy, he refused to discuss what he learned, saying the meeting was confidential.
However, he did release a statement saying "many of the concerns previously raised have been met by innovative design solutions. This will be a unique, exciting project bringing hundreds of new residents to the downtown area and attracting millions of people to beautiful retail, residential and office facilities."
While the church is still publicly mum about its mixed-used design - though it presented preliminary concepts recently to City Council members and business leaders - it plans to seek more public comment than the city requires as soon as this summer.
"I appreciate their sensitivity to the need to do that," said Councilwoman Jill Remington Love.
The church must ask public opinion if it proposes a sky bridge to link Crossroads Plaza and ZCMI Center - an element one council member said remains in the design to satisfy retailer demands - because that would require changing the downtown master plan. But the church doesn't have to solicit comments on the overall design.
Like Anderson, Love has been skeptical of the plan to rebuild the malls, but came away from the meeting "excited."
"I really felt like the church had heard us and heard us and heard us on every single issue. You just become so aware of how invested they are in our downtown. It's going to be unlike anything we've seen before in this state."
The design still includes housing - a key component to revitalizing downtown - as initially planned. Councilwoman Nancy Saxton said the church and its developers are looking at condos and apartments. While she would like to see them add "high, high-end" housing in the $1 million price range, she said they are looking at less expensive, but still pricey, units. The housing will be on both the Crossroads and ZCMI Center blocks, but the "million-dollar" vistas will be from Crossroads, where dwellers will have views of the Salt Lake Temple, she added.
Councilman Dave Buhler said the design is "even better than I had imagined."
No one wanted to give away details. Council members said it remains an enclosed mall, but "you might feel like you're outside," Love said. And Saxton said the design "creates more of a streetscape" both inside and outside the structures and has a "solarium feel."
Saxton said there could be green space atop the mall structures, similar to what the church did by adding landscaping on the roof of its Conference Center.
And council members said the church wants the malls to be closed on Sunday - ZCMI Center already is - but it hasn't ruled out alcohol sales at planned restaurants.
"Their commitment is still nothing on Sunday," Saxton said.
As for the alcohol issue, "they are willing to recognize state law. That's all I'm going to say," she added.
One council member said the church would be spending close to $1 billion. On Thursday, church spokesman Dale Bills would say only that "gross costs are quite different than net costs. Estimates of net costs to the church and its partners continue to be in the range previously announced."
That was $500 million. Church officials maintain none of the mall money would come from members' tithing payments.
Saxton said council members have been curious to see what the mayor would think of the plans.
Anderson had expressed fears the church was blowing an opportunity to create a "great city," saying malls offer inauthentic experiences.