Now that the proposal for the Grand Salt Lake Mall seems doomed, its supporters want to know what alternatives the city has in mind for the west side.
"The mall is dead . . . I'm asking: What are you going to give us in return?" demanded Jay Ingleby, chairman of the Glendale Community Council and frequent wearer of an "I want the Sprawl Mall" T-shirt.
Salt Lake City Councilman Keith Christensen announced Friday that he will vote against the proposed mall, a $250 million project that has polarized many west-siders, east-siders and city officials. Since councilman Tom Rogan has also made it clear he's against the mall and Council Chairman Carlton Christensen has recused himself due to a potential conflict of interest, that leaves only four other council members to vote in favor of it.
Mayor Rocky Anderson has promised to veto the project no matter what — which means the council won't have the five-vote supermajority it needs to override a veto.
The mall's fate came down to one man: Christensen.
"Honestly, I waited until this hour because the facts weren't before us until now," he said. The council had commissioned studies of the proposed mall, and Christensen finally saw the results late last week. It became clear to him that the Grand Mall could cripple two areas in which Salt Lake City is heavily invested — Gateway and downtown. With its acres of retail and some 300,000 square feet of restaurants and theaters, the megamall would delay downtown growth "for a decade or longer, and that would be a tragedy." The Grand Mall's timing is all wrong, Christensen said.
The council hadn't planned to vote on the project until Aug. 8.
"If I had not said anything, the staff would have worked with each council member" on further analysis of possible project subsidies and zoning issues, Christensen said. With the mayor's veto imminent and the lack of a council supermajority, that staff time would have been "a waste of resources." Council Vice Chairman Roger Thompson said a vote will still be held, unless the developer, KFR Utah/Forest Cities Enterprises, withdraws its proposal. George Riemer, the developer's spokesperson, said Saturday that he needed to talk with his partners about that possibility.
Ingleby was furious when he heard Christensen's announcement. He told a reporter his part of town needed the megamall since too much "Spanish stuff" has moved in, making it "look like Tijuana."
Latino businesses don't serve my needs, he elaborated Saturday. "I can't stop anybody from starting a business here. But I'm expressing concern. We don't like it. We can't read the signs. Why can't we have Ace Hardware or Blockbuster Video, places where we can shop?"
Ingleby has lived on the west side for 45 years. "People think I'm a racist. That is totally hooey, OK? I'm trying to be a representative for the community. I'm trying to do the best I can to get the community back on its feet."
Ingleby eventually apologized for his "Spanish stuff" comments. "I said that in a fit of anger. I was very upset at the mayor and Keith Christensen, who I felt did us a disservice." Ingleby said he "felt sorry for" the Grand Mall developers. "They wanted to build something for us, and that's more than Salt Lake City is doing."
Ingleby said he's tried to invite minority business people to Glendale Community Council meetings, but few have come. "I have no racist tendencies in my body. I'm trying to bring a community together. I'm asking for help and I'm not receiving help," he said.
We had better come together with the Salt Lake Council and Planning Commission, said state Sen. Pete Suazo, a Democrat who grew up on the west side. While developers, city officials and bankers have ignored this part of the city for decades, Latino business people have "given new life to the neighborhoods," and their presence "is a regenerative thing, a very healthy thing. It's heartwarming to see their homeownership and their pride in homeownership." Since the west side has both space and need for more growth, "let's come up with a good alternative to the Grand Mall. Can we put a master plan together that allows neighborhood businesses?"
By all means, answered the mayor.
"I've said all along that we need to concentrate on bringing retail development to west-side neighborhoods, rather than a mall several miles away from them," said Anderson. "We've been aggressive in talking to retail developers about possible west-side developments . . . Mr. Ingleby says he doesn't have any faith in anything happening, because nothing's happened in the past. I think that's a destructive, self-defeating approach. We're committed to doing everything we can for the west side."
Now is the critical time for city leaders to pay attention to the west side, added Council Vice Chairman Thompson. "The downtown is OK, the east side is OK, but there are whole areas on the west side that are really having struggles," he said. "We have two cities: a fairly wealthy segment and a low-end segment." Salt Lake City needs to find a way to encourage both diversity and economic growth — two factors that will determine Salt Lake's future, Thompson said.
Forest City's Riemer said the Grand Mall hasn't really been defeated. "It's going to be built somewhere along the Wasatch Front," he promised on Saturday. "The only losers in this situation are the people of Salt Lake City."
Look for the project, which would be the 15th mall in the Salt Lake Valley, in West Valley City, said one official. "We'd like to generate the No. 1 site for (the Grand Mall's) tenants," said West Valley City Manager John Patterson. For four months he's been talking with Riemer — and with Salt Lake's mayor.
"I've kidded with Rocky, saying I was doing all I could to help him bring that mall to West Valley," said Patterson. "He laughed and said he was doing all he can to push it in our direction."