LDS Church leans on Salt Lake City

The LDS Church is putting pressure on Salt Lake City officials again.

As it redevelops its two malls on Main Street, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints doesn’t want the city to allow department stores to locate in The Gateway and property surrounding the shopping center west of downtown.

In a letter Thursday, the church’s attorney for its real estate company urged the Planning Commission to keep regulations in place that would prevent anchor stores such as Nordstrom and Target from opening in The Gateway.

Church attorney Alan Sullivan, who helped his client gain the city’s easement through the Main Street Plaza, also suggested that allowing department stores to locate west of the core downtown could harm the church’s ability to redevelop the ZCMI Mall and Crossroads Plaza. His letter to the Planning Commission — a volunteer citizen board — and the City Council and Mayor Rocky Anderson says the city’s current zoning that forbids department stores in The Gateway district is “crucial to attract the investment necessary to strengthen the downtown area.”

The church said in a news release that national retail consultants working on its revitalization plans have “strongly recommended” the city forbid a division of department store locations. Currently, department stores are allowed between South Temple and about 900 South, and between 200 East and 300 West.

On Wednesday, the Planning Commission will discuss the Boyer Co.’s request to allow department stores in the area between 400 West and Interstate 15 and between North Temple and 200 South. The City Council will ultimately decide. It plans to have a fact-finding hearing Sept. 18 and could decide by mid-October.

Kem Gardner, president of the Boyer Co., said the church’s position is “absurd” because if Target is prevented from opening at The Gateway, it might stay out of Salt Lake City altogether. He said it won’t open on Main Street. “We want them to be successful, we want them to have a nice project. Why are they declaring war on us, saying we can’t have anything, we can’t have any anchors?”

Without the zoning change, Gateway manager Jake Boyer worries Nordstrom will leave the city as its spokespeople have pledged. Nordstrom’s lease is up at Crossroads Plaza in 2005. It has signed a letter of intent with The Gateway but cannot move there without the zoning change.

“With the letter, they’re basically saying it’s better the city lose Nordstrom. That’s very shortsighted,” Boyer said. “If we lose Nordstrom, it’s going to send a chilling message to retailers across the country.”

He said his company would not have invested $300 million in The Gateway if it wasn’t allowed to have anchor tenants.

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