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S.L. mall plan hits the wall

West side plan dies without even a vote

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The Grand Salt Lake Mall, a messy and contentious issue that galvanized large numbers of Salt Lake residents both for and against, has ended with a whimper.

But neither the mall nor the controversy over retail development on Salt Lake's west side has completely disappeared. Mall developers are still being courted elsewhere and Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson, who led the opposition against the mall, is telling skeptical west side residents they will be taken care of.

The Salt Lake City Council didn't even vote Thursday on whether to approve the proposed megamall at I-80 and 5600 West. Council members knew it didn't have the necessary votes, so they simply decided to drop it.

"It's over," said councilwoman Nancy Saxton, a mall supporter.

In the final analysis, the mall had three supporters — Saxton, Van Turner and Dave Buhler — and three opponents — Tom Rogan, Keith Christensen and Roger Thompson. (Council Chairman Carlton Christensen recused himself because of a conflict.) A tie meant not only would the proposal not have survived a promised mayoral veto, it wouldn't even have passed the council on the first go-round.

Thompson, who was thought to be a supporter, announced Thursday that he would have voted against the mall because of the lack of a master plan specific to the area and because the majority of his District 5 constituents opposed it.

Jeff Salt of the Great Salt Lake Audubon Society told the Deseret News the society is "very interested" in suing the city for possibly violating state law by developing the area before it has a specific master plan.

The mall is dead in Salt Lake City, but it's very much alive elsewhere — particularly West Valley City, whose officials have been lobbying hard for developer Forest City to look at them as an alternative.

Forest City director of planning Victor Grgas said Thursday he wasn't yet sure what the company would do, but the mall "will happen. The only question is where."

Anderson has fought the mall hard, to the point of using city funds to send out brochures attacking it. Some council members, including some who agreed with his conclusion, decried his tactics.

"I think he did incite passions inappropriately," Keith Christensen said.

Political squabblings aside, the question now for residents of the city's west side is, are they ever going to get the shopping so many of them want?

Many west-side residents latched onto the mall idea as a way to get long-sought-after shopping outlets — particularly large discount stores — on the west side of town so they don't have to go to West Valley City or Bountiful to get a pair of pants or sewing supplies. The area contains a Sutherland's, a Smith's, an Albertson's and other stores, but dry goods stores are in very short supply.

"We can't spend money," said Rosepark resident Kathleen Hone. "We have nowhere to spend it."

Anderson has told the west side to be patient, and that he will get them stores, but many people don't believe it . They have been told the same thing by several mayors with no result.

The west side is in a curious position when it comes to shopping. Much of the area is only a few blocks from downtown retailers, but it is separated by railroad tracks and highway, psychological as well as physical barriers. What's more, "they don't have the things we want, that the ShopKos and Walmarts have at the price we want," said resident Pearl Nelson.

The west side is caught between shopping hubs to the south and to the north, and large retailers have repeatedly said there isn't a critical mass of residents with enough disposable income to justify building there.

"There have always been characteristics of the west side that have not been attractive to large-scale retail establishments," said Thayne Robson, director of the University of Utah's Bureau of Economic and Business Research.

Anderson is conducting discussions with Walmart and Walgreen's about locating on the west side, but those discussions have been held many times before and are very preliminary at this point.

Some council members, moreover, fear that what they see as the shoddy way the city dealt with Forest City presages similar handling of other potential developers.

"I hope as a city we won't treat other petitioners quite that badly," Carlton Christensen said.

E-MAIL: alan@desnews.com