The Gateway in Salt Lake City took a major leap this week in its evolution into something more than a retail center, with the addition of Recursion Pharmaceuticals as a core tenant.
The 5-year-old biotechnology company has moved its headquarters from the University of Utah’s Research Park to a new 100,000-square-foot facility in the downtown shopping and entertainment center and will hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday.
“Ultimately, we hope to be part of a larger ecosystem of biotechnology companies in the area,” said Tina Larson, Recursion’s chief operating officer, who added that The Gateway provides a central location for its employees who live along the Wasatch Front.
In occupying the two-floor space once filled by Dick’s Sporting Goods, Recursion now joins Kiln, a coworking company providing office space to startups, as a Gateway office tenant focused on technology.
The company also announced it would soon be bringing in The Store, a Utah-based fine-foods grocer, as well as another large entertainment-oriented tenant. The Gateway, at 100 S. Rio Grande St., is already home to The Salt Lake Tribune, Utah’s largest daily newspaper; Cicero Group, a management consultancy; and Artemis Health.
But the additions of Recursion and Kiln herald what The Gateway’s Phoenix-based owner, Vestar, sees as the once-ailing mall’s transformation into a hub for technology companies and an extension of Utah County’s tech-heavy Silicon Slopes.
The strategy of diversifying away from retail, according to one top Vestar executive, is partly a response to the increasing volatility that bricks-and-mortar retailers face with the dramatic growth of online shopping.
“The overall vision for The Gateway has always been to create this urban, vibrant destination, heavy on food and beverage, heavy on entertainment,” said Jenny Cushing, Vestar’s vice president for leasing. “In order for us to be competitive, the plan — and what we’ve successfully done — is to retrofit some of our larger blocks of space into creative office space.”
The shift is also being welcomed by officials at City Hall, who say The Gateway’s new approach will add significantly to the city’s inventories of attractive and open office spaces, with large square footages and high ceilings, along with proximity to TRAX and FrontRunner and hundreds of apartments.
“Recursion’s expansion is part of a larger renaissance of how business is done in Salt Lake City," said Mayor Jackie Biskupski, who credited the city’s 2-year-old Department of Economic Development for helping to bring nearly $1 billion in capital investment and 9,000 jobs to the city.
The new tenants arrive at The Gateway as Vestar is deep into more than $100 million in revitalization of the open-air shopping center that began in late 2016, when the privately held company bought the property. Vestar owns or operates nearly 70 retail centers across the southwestern U.S., including West Valley City’s Valley Fair Mall.
Built in 2001 with the help of taxpayer subsidies, The Gateway had been in an extended slump after years of problems with vagrancy tied to The Road Home shelter to its south and competition from City Creek Center, the upscale shopping center a few blocks east on Main Street.
Declining foot traffic and the loss of key tenants had at one point pushed The Gateway’s vacancy rate so high, it met some industry definitions of a “dead” mall.
Vestar has since sought to “de-mall” the site, converting it into a kind of urban lifestyle playground and creating social, cultural and artistic experiences to appeal to millennials — while also keying off existing tenants such as Wiseguys Comedy Club, Clark Planetarium, Discovery Gateway Children’s Museum, The Depot and Megaplex Theatres.
The company has tightened security, renovated building exteriors and upgraded common areas, and recruited several entertainment-oriented tenants, including Dave & Buster’s, which combines a full-service restaurant and video arcade. The Gateway’s spruced-up walkways and gathering spots now feature more than 30 art installations, many of them by Utah artists.
Cushing said Vestar had executed new leases covering nearly 200,000 square feet of The Gateway’s 1.4 million square feet of dining, retail and office space, and is in negotiations involving another 90,000 square feet. Other proposed additions include a four-star boutique hotel rising eight stories high and built onto historic Union Pacific Depot, along with new restaurants and entertainment tenants, and an extensive calendar of concerts and community events.
Recursion’s migration from the U. campus to downtown wrapped up last week and research is already taking place in the new first-floor laboratories, where scientist use something called “high-throughput screening” to conduct hundreds of cell experiments each day, according to Larson.
The process involves robotics, data processing, liquid handling devices and sensitive detectors — all deployed in the company’s quest to find new uses for known drugs and improve the lives of those with rare genetic diseases.
“We’re dedicated to improving human health through science,” said Larson, who predicted that Recursion’s presence at The Gateway would help attract other new biotech startups — something Recursion says it welcomes and will need for future growth.
About 40 percent of the 100 employees come from out-of-state, she said, and are used to living in urban areas with amenities including public transportation.
Larson said Recursion has doubled in size each year, and the new headquarters at The Gateway should accommodate further expansion and up to 300 employees. Its previous headquarters at Research Park was 15,000 square feet.
Not all the work at Recursion is done in a laboratory setting. Its new offices include open work spaces, where the lines between departments — as well as managers and employees — blur to foster collaboration.
“It reminds us that no one person is more important,” Larson said. “We all have a role to play.”
The new headquarters also features a kitchen and dining center, which employees have dubbed the “high-throughput feeding" area. The company has hired a professional chef and provides a free healthy lunch each workday. Plus it keeps a break room with a pingpong table, pool tables and a refrigerator stocked with snacks and drinks.
Earlier this week, workers were putting the finishing touches on the yoga studio and the quiet, meditation area. There’s also a two-story climbing wall — a remnant of the space’s previous tenant.
“Now no one wants to leave the building,” joked Larson. “We’ve got everything.”