When the LDS Church first announced plans a decade ago to redevelopment the flagging ZCMI Center and Crossroads Malls, the economy was booming and developers were beginning to take a new interest in downtown Salt Lake. But a year into construction, the housing bubble burst and the country entered into the Great Recession, the biggest economic collapse since the Great Depression eight decades earlier.
Thanks to the LDS Church’s deep pockets, construction for the City Creek Center continued despite the recession and helped secure confidence in Main Street’s future while cities across the country struggled.
It has been five years now since the City Creek Center opened and the climate downtown has changed significantly. While there are multiple factors that have led to the current boom downtown, based on the numbers City Creek has played an important role in bringing more development downtown.
“This is our best example of a TOD (transportation oriented development),” said Reid Ewing, professor of City and Metropolitan Planning at the University of Utah.
Ewing led a study looking at foot traffic downtown after City Creek opened and found that the block of Main Street between South Temple and 100 South had the highest pedestrian activity than any other block downtown.
Ewing cited his vibrancy scale that measures vibrancy based on imageability, enclosure, human scale, transparency and complexity as an indicator of the health of downtown, especially near City Creek.
“This (City Creek Center) has it all in terms of vibrancy,” said Ewing.
The City Creek Center’s March 2012 opening coincided with the completion of two light rail lines connecting downtown to suburban communities on the west end of the county and the expansion of FrontRunner commuter rail connecting downtown Salt Lake to the Ogden and Provo urban areas. Reid attributes these connections to City Creek’s success and the renewed interest in downtown.
Laura Fritts, the city’s director of the Department of Economic Development, noted that vacancies downtown are down while leasable space is increasing.
“I’m looking forward to the next five years,” said Fritts.
When the City Creek Center opened, it added 536 residential units to the area. According to the 2010 Census, downtown Salt Lake had a population of 5,000 people, two years before City Creek opened. By 2022, the downtown residential population is expected to more than double. There are over 2,200 residential units under construction and another 800 units expected to start construction within the next year.
The number of office workers has grown significantly since 2012. In 2016, the real-estate arm of the LDS Church completed 111 Main tower, directly south of City Creek at Main Street and 100 South. The 24-story office building added 440,000 square feet of office space and around a 1,000 new employees to downtown.
In addition to 111 Main, downtown welcomed the Eccles Theater, a large broadway-style theater which shares lobby space with 111 Main, and street enhancements to Regent Street. The theater and tower were strategically placed to build off the energy of City Creek. The pedestrian enhancements to Regent Street were designed to create a continuous pedestrian experience from the City Creek Center to Gallivan Plaza a block to the south.
The pedestrian enhancements to Regent Street were designed to create a continuous pedestrian experience from the City Creek Center to Gallivan Plaza a block to the south.
According to data from the Downtown Alliance, since City Creek opened, downtown retail sales have increased 46 percent, retail employment increased 83 percent and downtown hotel room bookings grew by 62 percent. The retail center’s presence also contributed to an 119.7 percent rise in retail wages, 26.9 in food service wages and 74.1 percent in hotel wages.
In 2016 5 million out of state visitors shopped at the City Creek Center and contributed to 17.3 million visits to the retail center last year.
While officials celebrate City Creek’s catalytic effect on downtown development, most of the new residential developments are happening away from the City Creek Center. The majority of new residential development underway is clustered around the Gateway and Pioneer Park at downtown’s western edge and around the 200 South and 200 East intersection at downtown’s eastern boundary.
In addition to a growing residential population, nightlife in downtown has increased significantly since City Creek opened. As with the residential growth, most of the city’s nightlife is emerging away from City Creek. Two of the most active nightlife clusters downtown are between 300 South and 400 South on Main Street and 200 East and State Street on 200 South.
City Creek may have been an economic catalyst, but current and projected growth won’t be clustered around the retail center. Large projects expected to start construction within the next year, the Regent Street Hotel, the Convention Center Hotel, 151 State and the Patrinely Group office towers, will help extend downtown’s increasing vibrancy past Main Street.
“Without City Creek, a lot of that wouldn’t have happened,” said Lane Beattie, president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber.