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Conceived and begun before its time, the South Towne Mall and its surrounding corporate and government developments appear finally on the verge of blossoming.

Builders in the neighborhood - public and private - are banking on human migration to continue unabated into the suburban south sector of Salt Lake Valley. On paper at least, it appears commerce around 10600 South and I-15 one day could rival downtown Salt Lake City."What caught our eye, aside from the site, was the growth, particularly of the number and size of young families in Sandy and in West and South Jordan," said Tim Bruce, vice president of development for Equity Properties and Development Co., a Chicago-based corporation that owns South Towne along with dozens of other malls across the country.

Stalled by two previous owners' bankruptcies, the mall, a decade after it was a drawing-board sketch, now has 27 tenants and is well on its way toward housing as many as 85 stores.

"It was probably built five to seven years too early," said Bruce, "but we're taking a very long-term approach to it."

Equity Properties is hardly alone in its bullish view of the South Valley; others can sense the smell of money here, too, including Cineplex-Odeon Theatres, one of the biggest cinema-house chains in North America.

"It's the busiest theater we have in the state," said Bill Sadler, district manager for Cineplex-Odeon, the Toronto-based company which in December opened South Towne Cinemas, with 10 screens and 2,300 seats. The theater is so popular that good movies sell out early, especially on weekends.

Even the electorate has given a kind of stamp of approval to the synergetic combination of stores, restaurants, government services and private office buildings spilling across a 1,000-acre site between 10000 South and 10600 South just east of I-15, the Salt Lake Valley's major transportation corridor.

At the center of the development will be a new $8 million City Hall, a remarkable achievement in itself, gaining funding as it did at the height of a recession by a voter-approved tax increase. Government services will also include a circuit court building due to open by the end of the year, when Sandy residents will no longer have to drive downtown to pay traffic fines.

Byron Jorgenson, Sandy chief administrative officer, said a state driver's license office, a State Tax Commission branch and Social Services outlet might one day be located here as well.

"We don't have illusions people will come from downtown, but this will keep people from having to go downtown for everything," said Jorgenson.

Planners have taken pains to preserve at least some of Sandy's once-pastoral charm here, with a 150-foot strip of grass and trees serving as a median leading up the long street toward the new City Hall. The parkway will be the central feature around which other developments grow.

The complex might help assuage Sandy's longtime hankering for a city center of its own. The town in the past 15 years has grown explosively from a smattering of developments in a sea of pasture to a vibrant suburb of 70,000 without any well-defined central district. The current City Hall is in an old backstreet high school building. Retail commerce is scattered among several shopping strips and malls.

Redevelopment bonds totaling $3 million, to be paid off by taxes on the developers, account for the curbs, gutters, paved roads, street lights and sewage and water systems in place at the South Towne Business Park, which surrounds the mall and remains mostly open ground still waiting for tenants.

But the momentum seems in place.

Novell Inc., the famous Provo-based software company, has opened a 40,000-square-foot office building at the park and has approval for two similar structures on the same plot of ground. ZCMI, the department-store giant, has a 200,000-square-foot store already open at the mall, and JC Penney will open a 104,000-square-foot store there in August.

Equity is expecting two and perhaps three more major chains to open department stores there, and Jorgenson said a Salt Lake developer, Woodbury Corp., is pitching the parcel across 10600 South as a 15-dealer automobile plaza that has attracted the interest of three dealerships so far.

"We understand there are other deals to locate nationally recognized businesses in this park," Bruce said.

The prosperity is spilling into neighboring West Jordan as well.

Take Bob Rankin, for example. He opened Kelly Steel in West Jordan last October. It fabricates steel structures for buildings erected in California and has 85 employees, including 60 who live in town.

"I came here from Tennessee and I looked for a year before I came here," Rankin said. "I looked from Spanish Fork to Pocatello, and I have to put in a plug for these people. Everyone made it obviously clear they wanted to recruit business for West Jordan and they went out of their way."

Growth is evident in the numbers.

West Jordan had 808 commercial establishments in 1985, according to Sherry Palmer, city business license coordinator. Last year, the figure jumped to 1,006. That doesn't include home businesses, beer licenses or vending machines.

The business implications go well beyond retailing, said Dan Steffen, executive director of the Sandy Chamber of Commerce.

Steffen said Sandy's largest employers - the medical-technology company Becton & Dickinson Vascular Access, with 1,800 workers, and the Western regional processing center for Discover Card Services Inc., with a payroll of 1,250 - find Sandy the perfect location because of its population.

"It's advantageous for both employee and employer because of their close proximity to each other," said Steffen. "It gives the employee more leisure time (because) they don't have to waste commuting, and the employer benefits because people are more productive once they get to work . . . they give more freely of their time because they're closer to home."

A typical commute from one part of Sandy to another might be five or 10 minutes, said Steffen; rush-hour traffic can turn the 16-mile drive downtown into a saga of an hour or more.

"Even at the legislative level we're starting to recognize the South Valley is where the future action is going to be," said Dick Bradford, a Sandy real estate broker and member of the state House of Representatives. "Finally a critical mass has been reached, and people are scrambling to find a place here."

Bradford, co-chairman of the Education Appropriations Committee, noted that the Legislature this session appropriated $1 million to buy a South Valley site for a community college, which he said will be "probably along the I-15 corridor, probably at least this far south, probably between 106th and 114th South."

Plans to build a light-rail system along I-15 also figure nicely into the the South Towne development picture, with the public-transportation network ending neatly at the mall if voters approve it during this year's general election.

"The population has shifted," said Bradford, and the balance of commerce has tilted south, reflecting a demographic revolution affecting every facet of life.

"It gives the South Valley not only more development," he said, "but more political clout too."