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Nordstrom eyes Gateway

Store taking poll to see what shoppers think about a move

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Nordstrom Inc. — an upscale national retailer and some say the most important one in Salt Lake City — is predicting downtown's economic fate. And to shore up its forecast, it has hired a pollster to take the pulse of local shoppers.

This weekend Dan Jones & Associates is phoning Salt Lakers, asking how they would feel if Nordstrom left its site inside the 21-year-old Crossroads Plaza and joined the Boyer Co. behemoth known as the Gateway project.

"The Gateway is the future of retail in Salt Lake," proclaimed Brooke White, spokeswoman for Nordstrom Inc.

She said the company's sales in downtown Salt Lake City have been "declining over time." She blamed the decline on the area malls' mix of stores and restaurants, which is less than vibrant, and a perceived parking shortage is also a problem.

White, speaking from corporate headquarters in Seattle, said Nordstrom will remain at Crossroads until its lease expires in 2005. Meantime, once the Gateway opens Nov. 1, she said, it is likely to act as an enormous magnet that will pull everyone and their money to 500 West and "dramatically affect our sales."

It's no secret Nordstrom wants to move, and it planned to have a 160,000-square-foot store in Gateway. But those plans were killed last year, when the Salt Lake Redevelopment Agency board, also known as the City Council, joined with Mayor Rocky Anderson and agreed with the Boyer Co. that no store in the new complex could be larger than 45,000 square feet. Both parties also decided to discourage "greater Main Street" retailers from moving to Gateway, at least for the next four years.

If Main Street loses the upscale department store, "all of the downtown area suffers," said RDA board member Keith Christensen, who championed the agreement. "It would be a major blow."

The poll results are part of Nordstrom's ongoing market research used in planning for the future after 2005.

The only way he would approve Nordstrom's move to Gateway would be if the Boyer Co. brought another opulent anchor to downtown, such as Saks or Neiman-Marcus.

Developer Jake Boyer, however, has his hands full at Gateway with 40 new retailers, nine full-scale restaurants and 12 movie screens. And later the Children's Museum of Utah, Hansen Planetarium and an IMAX theater will anchor the complex. The House of Blues is headed for the Union Pacific Depot at the development's north end.

And though Boyer said "we have not gone and raided the downtown malls," at least two future Gateway tenants came from Crossroads: Brookstone and Fortier Jewelers. Other tenants plan to add second locations at Gateway. They tell Boyer their downtown stores will stay open, but it's hard to say what the Salt Lake economy could do to those good intentions.

This week the City Council suspected Gateway was also pulling retailers away from other shopping centers. The council balked at a proposed $60,000 loan from the city's small-business loan fund to Bill Loya, a Foothill Village women's clothing shop. The store can't expand at its current site, said Frank McCrady, the loan fund administrator.

The council demanded that McCrady find out whether Bill Loya really can't grow where it is, or whether the store owners simply consider Gateway more glamorous than Foothill Village.

"Are we engaged in economic development or economic relocation?" asked councilman Tom Rogan. He asked for a list of Salt Lake businesses that plan to move into the Gateway. McCrady said he'd "be happy to" provide that.

Meanwhile, city officials continue to cheerlead for both Gateway and greater Main Street, saying they can live happily together. But a different match may be made in a few years, when Nordstrom's Crossroads lease and the city's pact with the Boyer Co. run out.

"We would just really love to be at Gateway," said Nordstrom's White.

"There would be room," said Boyer. "We could make it work in 2005. "We've always had plans for a second phase."

E-mail: durbani@desnews.com