Mayor Rocky Anderson has a vision for Salt Lake City's downtown Main Street that abandons dependence on chain stores and big anchor retailers such as Nordstrom, Mervyn's and Meier & Frank.
Instead, Anderson envisions something similar to San Diego's GasLamp Quarter — an eclectic mix of locally owned shops, bars, restaurants, theaters and galleries near the beach.
The mayor thinks it can work — even without a beach in downtown Salt Lake City.
"(I'm interested in) building it up into more like the GasLamp District in San Diego, which is a very charming place with a lot of locally owned businesses adding to the identity of the charm," Anderson told KSL-TV. "And not so much dependence on the big national chain stores and big anchor retailers."
Anderson thinks The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints could play a key role in making that happen. While the church, which recently purchased the Crossroads mall, has remained mum on its plans for the Main Street shopping center, Anderson can't help but offer his hopes.
One plan, Anderson says he has heard, is to chop up the mall so that pedestrian pathways would wind through the block. That way downtown visitors could walk through the middle of the block between West Temple and Main Street. The property surrounding those pedestrian pathways would be mixed with retail, residential, dining and entertainment establishments.
"It's going to be fantastic," he said. "The church has a huge interest in making this succeed and the resources to do it.
"I think what we are going to see is reconfiguration."
Anderson, then, is now cordial to the idea of moving Nordstrom from Crossroads to The Gateway so that the mall can be reconfigured.
"Having Nordstrom at Gateway will help us build a complementary relationship between Gateway and the Main Street downtown," he said. "And especially with the purchase by the LDS Church of the Crossroads mall property, that could help us reconfigure that area into what I think will be one of the greatest things to happen to our downtown in many, many years."
That's a dramatic shift for the mayor. Anderson has previously said that allowing Nordstrom to leave would be "unethical" because the city had a responsibility to, among others, Meier & Frank, which recently underwent a $20 million renovation to its Main Street store. If Nordstrom left, the thinking went, other businesses in Crossroads and the ZCMI Center would struggle.
"It would be horrifically unethical," Anderson said in July. "The city put millions of dollars into The Gateway, conditioned upon the agreement that department stores would not be at The Gateway. We simply can't undermine the interests of downtown Main Street businesses."
Later, in a letter to the Deseret News, Anderson reiterated that those involved needed to "play by the rules."
Anderson is on the media circuit again this week, hitting editorial boards of various news outlets, including KSL-TV and the Deseret News, in an attempt to win support for his new Nordstrom position.
Anderson says his position changed because circumstances changed when current Crossroads owner Foulger Pratt Cos. failed to proffer Nordstrom a decent offer to keep the retailer at the mall. Late last fall the city, Nordstrom and Foulger Pratt had agreed that Nordstrom would have a new deal to stay at the mall by December. However, that December deadline came and went without any offer from Foulger Pratt, Anderson said. In recent months, Anderson said Foulger Pratt, which has donated $8,000 to his re-election campaign, didn't give Nordstrom a reasonable offer until it was too late.
A secretary at Foulger Pratt said Vice President Clayton Foulger was out of town and wouldn't be available for comment until Monday.
City Council Chairman Carlton Christensen said he remained committed to blocking Nordstrom's bid to leave Main Street. In part, Christensen said, he agrees with Anderson as far as the future of Main Street but would like a mix of locally owned shops and large department stores.
"We need a balance," Christensen said. "I believe they both have a place there."
What the area doesn't need is traditional mall fare like another Payless Shoe Store, Christensen said.
At the May Co., which owns Meier & Frank department stores, the company's spokeswoman Melinda Martin re-released a statement from Dean Wolfe, executive vice president for acquisitions and real estate.
"May relied on the city's support of Main Street retail and its zoning conditions and restrictions," Wolfe said. "We are spending multi-millions of dollars to completely remodel the downtown Meier & Frank store. This expense is being completely funded by May — it includes no city financing. We see a bright future for Main Street retailing if the redevelopment plans of the past several years are not compromised."
Anderson's chief mayoral opponent, Frank Pignanelli, an attorney who formally represented Nordstrom until March 1 when he amicably severed ties with the store due to potential conflicts of interest, said Anderson has a history of flip-flopping on important issues.
Wednesday Pignanelli's campaign issued a press released regarding Nordstrom and Main Street redevelopment.
"I should take this remarkable change of heart as a compliment, since I once worked so hard to highlight the inconsistencies pervading Mayor Anderson's Nordstrom policy, or as I'll be calling it for a few days: 'Mayor Anderson's most recently abandoned policy,' " Pignanelli said. "The route Mayor Anderson has chosen to take in this case is a terrible shame. This is not a game of Monopoly; nobody gets $200 for moving a little metal thimble around the board and back to 'Go.' Yet that's where the city is almost two years later: back where we started, with our pockets turned out."
Pignanelli also said that this controversy has diminished the current administration's ability to attract and work with potential retailers, who fear the city's struggling economy and high-profile hostilities pose too risky a venture.