City Creek Center


Blueprint AmericaBOB ABERNETHY, anchor: Now, a special report on the rebuilding of Salt Lake City. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Mormons, are building an enormous new downtown development—high end shops, condos, and offices. Is that emphasis on wealth and consumerism compatible with Mormon values of modesty and thrift? Does it leave any room for the poor, or for the variety that helps make up vibrant city life? Lucky Severson reports from Salt Lake City.

LUCKY SEVERSON, correspondent: By the looks of things, downtown Salt Lake City has found the pot of gold at the end of the stimulus rainbow. Where else would you find 1600 construction workers on a project so immense it will transform the core of a city? But this is not stimulus money, not even one cent of local taxpayers’ money. This project, known as City Creek Center, is funded entirely by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Mormons, and their development partners. Stephen Goldsmith was the city planning director during the Salt Lake Olympics.

STEPHEN GOLDSMITH (Associate Professor of Architecture and Planning, University of Utah): This is unprecedented. This is the single largest private development project going on in the United States today.

post04SEVERSON: When it’s completed in 2012, the new city center, directly across the street from the church’s temple, will include millions of square feet of retail and office space. Only the church knows the price tag, and they declined to be interviewed for our story, but the project’s cost is expected to top $1.5 billion, a price they’re willing to pay to transform Salt Lake City. Natalie Gochnour is chief operating officer of the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce.

NATALIE GOCHNOUR (Chief Operating Officer, Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce): We have the headquarters of an international religion. We’ve hosted the world in the Olympics. So we want to build a world city.

SEVERSON: Outsiders often don’t know that, in the city itself, a majority of residents are not Mormon, and some locals are concerned that the diversity of a vibrant downtown will give way to a squeaky-clean Mormon enclave in City Creek Center. Daniel Darger owns the Blue Iguana Restaurant not far from Temple Square.

DANIEL DARGER (Attorney and Owner, Blue Iguana Restaurant): There’s no question in my mind it’s going to fundamentally change the nature and the whole culture of that part of downtown. I think primarily their goal is to get a lot of their members here and to gain control of not only the politics, which they already have, and the economy, which they already have, but the atmosphere of the whole downtown.

SEVERSON: Before the City Creek project got underway, not many would have thought of Salt Lake as a world city. It was losing its population to the burbs. Downtown was becoming a ghost town, and that wasn’t good for business or the church’s image. Elbert Peck is the former editor of Sunstone magazine, an independent journal for Mormon intellectuals.

ELBERT PECK (Former Editor, Sunstone Magazine): When I was a child, I remember coming downtown with my grandmother, and she’d walk all of Main Street stopping off at every little shop and every little boutique. It was a wonderful, vibrant downtown.

post03SEVERSON: But in the late ’60s, Salt Lake began to face the suburban flight that was sweeping the nation. In an effort to reverse the trend, the church developed two downtown malls on land across from Temple Square. [CORRECTION: While the church did develop the ZCMI Center, Crossroads Plaza was developed by Crossroads Plaza Associates, an investor group not affiliated with the church. The church acquired Crossroads Plaza in 2003.] Rather than revitalizing the street life, though, the enclosed malls drew shoppers into the parking garage and then sent them right back to the suburbs, leaving the rest of downtown in bad shape.

PECK: Salt Lake City was dying, and the city was becoming seedy, and image and promotion is very important to the missionary work of the church.

SEVERSON: The church is again trying to revive the streets around Temple Square, and now to get people out of their cars they’ve got TRAX, an increasingly popular light rail system that was built ten years ago. Ryan McFarland is the economic development manager for the city’s mass transit system.

RYAN MCFARLAND (Transit and Economic Development Manager, UTA): A transit-oriented development is just this. It is a walkable community that’s typically higher density and that provides for all of your needs.

SEVERSON: Strongly opposed at first, TRAX up and running is now warmly embraced, and the transit system is expanding with 70 miles of new track, some of which is federally funded. The church strongly encourages its downtown employees to use mass transit, and the new development will be serviced by two TRAX stations.

MCFARLAND: This is the core of downtown. This is the City Center station. This will be the central business district where people don’t necessarily need their car. You can walk to the supermarket. You can walk to the restaurant you want to go to.

SEVERSON: From the beginning, Mormons have been pioneers in the field of city planning. Even before Joseph Smith was assassinated, they planned and built the city of Nauvoo, Illinois, which at the time rivaled the metropolis of Chicago, only Nauvoo was designed around the church’s temple, which is center to Mormon theology. Salt Lake City was designed in the same fashion. The new plan, though, is a little different. It incorporates the church’s values and old-fashioned capitalism. Jason Mathis is the executive director of the Downtown Alliance.

JASON MATHIS (Executive Director, Downtown Alliance): My sense is that right now people are pretty enthusiastic about this, and even some of the critics in the past have said, “Well, we recognize this is going to be a really good thing for our community.”

post01SEVERSON: It’s unlikely that a development of this magnitude would be possible in any other US city, because no one organization owns so much downtown property, and that will include satellite campuses for two church schools. As the church’s influence expands in Salt Lake City, the interests of the non-Mormon community often conflict with those of the church, creating what Stephen Goldsmith calls a “we-they” divide.

GOLDSMITH: The community needs to understand that we do have a certain Vaticanization, if you will, of this end of town. The changing demographics of Salt Lake City, just Salt Lake City by itself, really does create a “we-they.” There’s more of a “we-they” in this community than I’ve seen in my lifetime.

SEVERSON: The “we-they” divide became more pronounced a few years ago, when the church purchased property adjacent to Temple Square and converted it into a private park known as the Main Street Plaza. That controversy grew to a full boil earlier this year when two men were found kissing in the plaza and were evicted by church security guards.

GOLDSMITH: When we privatize the public way, which is the single most important thing in the city is that democratic space of streets and sidewalks—when we lose that, we begin to lose some of that democracy. Remember, this is now private property. City Creek Center will basically control time, place, and manner of anything that happens interior to that project. So if a couple who happens to be same-sex is kissing each other after buying a wedding ring, that could be a problem.

SEVERSON: Critics worry that the church’s social policies, such as abstention from alcohol, will dictate the city’s culture. Jason Mathis says Salt Lake is not Las Vegas and doesn’t want to be, but that people here genuinely want to welcome other people.

MATHIS: It’s something that we’re really paying attention to, really trying to break down those barriers. I want people who might come downtown and go to a bar to also feel perfectly comfortable experiencing Temple Square, in the way that Parisians might experience the Cathedral of Notre Dame whether they’re Catholic or not.

SEVERSON: Even though the city has a non-Mormon mayor, and non-members outnumber members, Salt Lake is surrounded by suburbs and towns that are heavily Mormon—people who will come to the new downtown and who rarely oppose what the church proposes, even when it hurts. That includes Janice Heilner.

post02JANICE HEILNER (Store Owner): When we go to the temple, everyone takes their street clothes off. They have locker rooms and you can change into a white outfit.

SEVERSON: Janice operated a successful store across from Temple Square called Dressed In White until the church moved her to another location to make room for the City Creek project.

HEILNER: I was disappointed, but I could see the greater good in the whole thing. I know we were a casualty of the whole downtown redevelopment, but I realize that downtown needed a face lift. The only reservation is, will I be able to go back? I mean, you know, a new mall is going to cost a lot of money. I might not be able to afford the rent.

SEVERSON: Her reservation is probably realistic. City Creek, after all, is a for-profit, private development which favors national chains and allows it to bypass the affordable housing requirements of public developments. Higher end condos overlooking Temple Square could go for as high as $2 million.

PECK: They’re trying to make it pay for itself, first of all, because the church doesn’t like to put in money that it’s going to lose. You can’t fault them for that. But it’s going to be a high-end mall, and it’s going to be high-end apartments. But there needs to be addressed low-income housing in the city, that’s for sure.

SEVERSON: Stephen Goldsmith, the former director of city planning, is now an associate professor at the University of Utah who teaches a class about the ethics of shaping communities. He says he sees a disconnect between the business side of the church, which is constructing 900,000 square feet of retail space, and the values the church constantly preaches.

GOLDSMITH: Some of those values are frugality, modesty, humility, and it’s interesting to see how a temple to consumerism somehow is aligned with those values. What church do you know of that’s building retail space any place else in the world?

PECK: Within the church, within the scriptures, there’s a strong river of theology that is very anti-materialistic, and so there’s a conflict there. It’s the same conflict that Christians have from the New Testament, and Mormonism has pretty well made its peace with the modern consumer, capitalistic, materialistic society, and Mormons have to deal with that individually.

SEVERSON: There are parts of the development that almost everyone can agree on. City Creek is a green project, with green buildings, recyclable water, and even though the recession has hurt most of the country, the City Creek project has sheltered Salt Lake from the worst of it.

GOUCHNOUR: You know, people say there’s no safe harbor from this recession, but in downtown Salt Lake City there is. We’re on high ground here.

MATHIS: I think, though, the church doesn’t want to lose money on this, but I think that their motives have much more to do with being good community stewards, with creating a community that is going to last for the next hundred years.

SEVERSON: As for those who have concerns—

GOLDSMITH: God grant me the strength to know the things I can change and the things I can’t. I think this is a time for the community to say let’s develop the kind of city that we want. Let them develop the kind of city that they want, and maybe we can shake hands some place along the way.

SEVERSON: The church has said that the money for City Creek will come from investments and not from members’ tithes. Funding for the project was reportedly set aside before construction began.

For Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, I’m Lucky Severson in Salt Lake City.

ABERNETHY: That story was a collaboration between this program and public broadcasting’s Blueprint America project.

Major support for Blueprint America is provided by:

Surdna FoundationRockefeller Foundation
  • max

    Private investments set aside before construction. Wow. What if our government would do a little foresight and not spend spend spend and pay later.

  • HiveRadical

    So few remember what Christ said about the relationship between his followers and commerce, electing to take only the first part and ignore the second.

    9 And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon(a.k.a. commerce) of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations. — Jesus The Christ

    We’re not to serve mammon, but we’re not to openly wage war against it either.

  • Tammi Diaz

    I am a member of the church. But I am so angry at UTA they have a good bus system in down town Salt Lake City, Avenues and the University of Utah. UTA has destroyed the bus system in the rest of Salt Lake County. Making harder for the disabled, the elderly and workers that do have a car.

    UTA needs to get accessible vans and small buses to go into neighborhoods to help encourage people to take the bus and take individuals to the main bus routes and to trax. UTA needs to expand the bus the bus system, increase the frequency of buses and lower fares and also charge for parking at park and ride lots,to help increase increase ridership on buses.

    This would reduce costs and need for Paratransit. This would be transportation for all.

    Taking buses out of neighborhoods increase poverty
    and crime. Would Christ support this.

  • Morzen

    “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and unto … unto …” Mmm… Who?God that which is His? But what exactly is the LDS rendering unto God with this project? I think a lot of people don’t fully understand what the LDS church is really all about. To be sure, it’s not a common, conventional Christian denomination.

  • darlene runyon-kaiser

    how many other churches have revitalized any part of a community to upgrade it. most turn their backs and run off to build mega churches.

  • David

    Morzen asked “But what exactly is the LDS rendering unto God with this project?”

    The goal of everything the LDS church does is to help more of God’s children. I love belonging to a church that focuses on helping people throughout the world–regardless of their religion–which is clearly the ultimate “Christian” act.

    “Latter-day Saints believe that giving service to others is a lifestyle based on the teachings of Jesus Christ, who ‘went about doing good.’ The desire to serve others crosses cultural boundaries and has been manifested in recent months with stories featured on International Church Web sites. From Brazil and El Salvador to Samoa and Guatemala, members of the Church are reaching out around the world to help those in need.”

  • Hopeful

    To Ms. Runyon-Kaiser: Many churches throughout the U.S. take an active role in revitalizing communities, particularly by creating affordable housing, community centers, and social service programs.

    The LDS Church contributes to many social programs in Utah and throughout the world, too. What differentiates them from other faith based community development groups is the magnitude of for-profit commercial development that does not directly reflect their theology. One is left with questions of cognitive or spiritual or ontological dissonance, and it would be of great interest to learn how the LDS Church could help us reconcile this. Those of us who otherwise hold the church in high esteem are quite puzzled.

  • Roberta Brandes Gratz

    This is one of the country’s worst downtown projects I know of. It is a real city killer. A real example of bad planning, bad urbanism, destruction of local economy, demolition of the public realm…as non-democratic one can find in a city project. Salt Lake should divide into two cities: the half the church already owns, and a half that has a chance for a real city to emerge, open, democratic, responsive to a local population and welcoming to the full measure of America.

  • Travis

    I am a member of the LDS church and I am for the City Creek Center. There is vested interest in property adjacent to the headquarters of the church. What else should they build? At any rate, what a blessing this has been to the community. Not only will it bring people back to downtown but it is also putting over 1000 people to work. That in and of itself is great especially in this economy.

  • pete

    On the surface, this might appear inappropriate, but if one does a little intelligent digging and thinking, this is really a great idea. One other poster made a great comment – the rest of us, including our brilliant governments, could learn something from this. Why must we borrow borrow borrow before we buy? We live our entire lives on credit. It is dangerous. It makes us think we deserve more. Sure there are some who are disciplined enough to manage it, but it is so easy to just “charge it.” A new shirt – a new car – a new house – a vacation home and on and on and on. That is what will do our country more harm.

  • G King

    I am 51 years of age. When I was younger downtown Salt lake City was a glorious place. You could find great department stores and specialty shops. The malls did their time but now the city and the church are embracing a 21st century city. I totally respect the church and its sense of stewardship to preserving a city for all people. When City Creek is completed it will be the type of community many will want to go to. We Mormons know how to build communities.

  • Richard Saunders

    As one who fled Utah for Zion, I am profoundly saddened by the urban overbuilding of what was once a beautiful and historic city. I believe the church was most disturbed by being situated on one side of an aging city center; but in a cultural sense, projects like this are exercises in selective memory. Despite the historic loss, the accounting methods used are an admirable process. Construction as growth, however, implies a life-cycle. As cultural geography, SLC has always kept the wealthy church members close to Temple Square, and the church works hard to project an image of stability and substance. This “rebirth” is no different–but I just don’t like it. Good reading on the point: Donald Jackson, “Crabgrass Frontier” (1985).

  • jhaake

    At one point in time (not so very long ago) the church had no separation of funds (corporate vs. tithe). This project is totally funded by mormon tithes and the interest made by that invested money. Call it what it is: a money laundering scheme for the church “General Authorities” and their relatives (see list of contractors for reference). Keep in mind this project was originally estimated at 500M. Now the church announces it is $3B. The “prophet” Gordon Hinckley miss estimated the “Lord’s work” by a factor of 600%. We are thankful for a profit to guide us in these Latter-days.

  • Steve

    I’m a member of the church, too, but this project makes me very uncomfortable. Would the Savior live in a $2 million condo?

  • jhaake

    As of this week, the $1.5 billion is HALF wrong. The official church estimate is now 3 billion dollars. If that figure isn’t big enough already church office building insiders are indicating that we’ve only begun to see the final total that was known from the beginning by the leaders of this fine corporate church. One rule for members to remember: Keep paying tithing Jesus Smith needs it.

  • Beverly

    I am uncomfortable with the LDS church dictating so much of the city culture.

  • 3arwax

    Where was the church statement? Is this real journalism?

  • Nephi Monsen

    The mormon church is having financial problems. Many of the contractors have been forced to take promissory notes and the members have been asked to double their tithing to 20% for “The Lords Work”.

  • Maryanne

    Do shopping centers make “world cities”? Has a shopping center saved a city? I don’t know of any examples of either.

  • Matt

    Comment #18 is completely false in case anyone was wondering. Personally I think this project came at the perfect time. What city wouldn’t want this type of project which involves zero tax dollars in the middle of a recession? The LDS church is creating jobs both short and long term with City Creek. Downtown is already seeing a major surge in new business’s as a direct result. The bottom line is that this project will benefit the entire community.

  • Becky

    I hope this program takes the opportunity to objectively revisit this story in five or ten years and to ask a wide variety of people how they feel about it.

    And I have to address the comment that this project was “bad planning”. I respectfully ask the question, are you kidding? No one plans like mormons plan, even if you hate the plans.

  • Arthur

    The LDS Church was invited to participate in the development of this story and declined. One of the reasons it is difficult to sustain a healthy, robust civil dialogue about development issues is the inability to get the stakeholders together. But to criticize the journalists about this story would is to not understand the facts. Even a cursory read of the transcript above reveals that the Church was invited to the table but chose not to partake.

  • omli

    Common people, they are developing a private lands which is theirs. I bet in 2012 when it is done, you are going to eat your critical words. Watch your feelings of jealousy and anger toward the church. It is here for good.

  • jhaake

    While I don’t have any idea if the LDS church is having financial difficulties, I know that the LDS church isn’t telling and Matt (#20) can’t be sure of his statements either. What I do know as fact is that contractors have been given IOUs for their work, and also I know that some members have had it suggested to them to double their tithing. As I said before, Jesus Smith needs his cash flow. As to Becky’s comments (#21) I’d just have to defer to the Savior’s reasoning (Luke 14:28-30) The prophet Gordon stated $500M. The prophet Thomas now says its $3 billion. I’d say either bad planning, bad prophecy, or out-right deception are the only possible conclusions one could make of that.

  • Dan

    #24: #18′s comments are false. Tithing in the LDS church is and always has been 10%, a bargain when compared to Baptist congregations that ask 15%! Why City Creek Center? Three main reasons: First, the church already owned retail space there and had to stop it’s decay. Second, as stated, to preserve the atmosphere around Temple Square by revitalizing downtown. And third, to invest and generate revenue and prepare for major future efforts. (..more to come on that one :)…)

  • Sam

    this development is nice on the surface, great for the local economy, etc…but i have to ask: why does GOD need mall space? why does he, if it’s truly HIS church as the mormons claim….why, or WHY does he need MILLION DOLLAR CONDOS with a VIEW?! it sounds like it’s more “pride” to me than anything else. i see the suffering around the world–good, decent folks trying to make ends meet, or disasters (like haiti) and it’s tough to see 3 BILLION dollars being spent by a “church” to make themselves look better. i’m sure the mormons spend money on relief like other churches, but i just don’t see God wanting condos and SHOPPING MALLS to be ahead of his own creations. seems like their own scriptures teach against that. i’m just trying to see their reasoning in building this.

  • Kristen

    I’d have no problem with the church investing billions of dollars in this project, IF they would invest the same amount, dollar for dollar, in humanitarian aid at the same rate. They don’t. According to their own website they’ve spent just over 1.1 billion in cash and material assistance over the past 23 YEARS. Not a small sum, but still less than half of what they are spending on a MALL. What would Jesus do?

    “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also”

    Looking objectively, it’s easy to see where the LDS church’s heart is.

  • tina

    so is this project funded using tithing? i’m not comfortable with that (me/DH are full-tithe payers). i called city creek and the presiding bishopric offices and they assured me it wasn’t, but couldn’t offer any proof. this is hurting my testimony.

  • AveryNJ

    The Salt Late City council–which is mostly “they”–as well as the Salt Lake City mayor–who is also an “other”–support the project. They can see value. They trust the LDS Church. If this were imposed over the Mayor and Council’s objections, I would be worried. But, no objection.

  • AveryNJ

    Also, the LDS Church never said that they needed the mall–or that God needed the mall–or that Jesus needed the condo. This is a business development with the City’s blessing. It is not a building to be used for worship. It is to better God’s creatures in the area with a more vibrant, safe downtown. Also, the LDS Church spends a lot of money on aid, and takes in a lot of money from members for humanitarian aid. The $1.1Bn spent does not include the local assistance for housing, food, utilities, doctor’s bills, etc., paid by local congregations subsidized by the LDS Church coffers. Of course, this piece is completely devoid of any information or counter-statement by LDS Church representatives. For a more balanced analysis, see the NY Times (

  • Paul

    tina – is a testimony really a testimony if you require others to prove it? Go pray and ask God to prove it to you.

  • Kent

    Oh some of you guys are funny (#18,#24,#28)! The LDS Church has already said tithes are not being used, but you choose to believe the worst no matter what evidence might be given. It sounds to me like this project will be a great benefit to your community and help downtown from falling into decay. I wish my community in Arizona had a church (any church) that could rebuild the downtown (without taxing the public) so that the inner city crime and decay could be averted as well. There sure are alot of commentators posting who seem to know exactly what Jesus would do in given circumstances, yet some of their comments don’t reflect the charity Christ taught.

  • Richard Hugo

    People of the world, come seeking truth on your knees and in humility and then ask GOD whether or not the LDS faith is HIS work. The church does not answer to worldly authority. Private property is private and what is done with that is approved by elected officials is for the stakeholders to decide. The church has a very tight policy for how tithes are to be used and when the presiding Bishop tells you something, it is the truth. That any member would believe detractors rather than the LORD’S annoited??? The church spends a huge amount on humanitarian relief throughout the world and is one of the first to hit the ground in every major crisis in the world. The only organisation that gives 100% of what is donated to humanitarian aid to those in need with admin fees being paid from other church resources. GOD bless all people that help their brothers and sisters as we do!

  • vaase

    Can’t the LDSpeople have, some peace. They settled the salt lake valley and make it blossomed. The owner(LDS)decides to beautify it with its own money. It will be done, just like the winter olympics of ’02 Problems yes but it turned out in the words of the so called maistream mdeia it is still the best winter olympic big time. same thing with the creek project when it is all over. and my Bishop did not make me double my tihes, i am still paying ten percent and a generous fast offering amount of my free will to help the needy and the poor.

  • vaase

    Beautification is the word. Taking good care of a property is always a must.

  • Arian Foster

    this development is nice on the surface, great for the local economy, etc…but i have to ask: why does GOD need mall space? why does he, if it’s truly HIS church as the mormons claim….why, or WHY does he need MILLION DOLLAR CONDOS with a VIEW?! it sounds like it’s more “pride” to me than anything else. i see the suffering around the world–good, decent folks trying to make ends meet, or disasters (like haiti) and it’s tough to see 3 BILLION dollars being spent by a “church” to make themselves look better. i’m sure the mormons spend money on relief like other churches, but i just don’t see God wanting condos and SHOPPING MALLS to be ahead of his own creations. seems like their own scriptures teach against that. i’m just trying to see their reasoning in building this.

  • readerofcomments

    The City Creek project is not from tithing, members will never be asked to give greater than 10% tithes. This project is funded by private investors who are members of the Church. I’m sure they were sought out as any donor to any University or other institution is sought out. Many in the world are suffering so please since you’ve been given the where with all to notice, continue to help in your own way. The church does much to help those in need, I think I know why you are wanting to make the argument but it really doesn’t prove or disprove anything whether or not God wants a shopping mall or a condo with a view. Mormon prophets never claimed to be infallible in projecting construction costs and you won’t hear this discussed by them much since this is not their main job. Their main purpose is to testify of Christ, I think the ultimate goal of this project is to brighten up the downtown area and bring more foot traffic by the temple. It is a high price tag but it will repay itself to those who invested. There is no dark sinister theme here it is simple capitalism at work where the hope is all parties, the church, the investors, and the community benefits.