Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson's unbridled enthusiasm for Main Street has not been reined in by news that downtown's fourth-largest retailer is closing.

Instead, Anderson, the consummate cheerleader, remained upbeat about downtown Main Street's prospects Monday following the news over the holiday weekend that Old Navy is abandoning its location at 107 S. Main.

"Main Street retail is thriving. It is not dying," Anderson said in an interview after kicking off the inaugural 2003 Chess on Main Street tournament.

Asked if Old Navy's closure spells the end of Main Street retail, Anderson said, "Not at all. Read my lips: Not at all. Retail is healthy and thriving."

Look at the noon-hour sidewalks, Anderson said, pointing to hundreds of office workers, chess players and others scurrying about the street.

"Main Street is far better off than it's been for a long time," Anderson said.

And while one of his major re-election campaign contributors — The Boyer Co. — might like it, Anderson said he is not convinced that Old Navy should be allowed to open a shop at The Gateway. To facilitate the move, the city would have to drop the financial penalties Boyer Co. faces if it allows established Main Street retailers to locate there.

"I don't think so," Anderson said when asked if the penalties should be removed. "There was a reason for putting those in, and that was part of the deal (to loan city funds to help build The Gateway). . . . I haven't heard anything that would give me a reason to think those rules should be changed."

Representatives of The Gap Inc. met with the Boyer Co. two weeks ago and asked if The Gateway had room for Old Navy, Gateway project manager Jake Boyer said. Old Navy, owned by The Gap Inc., would be welcome only if the city-imposed penalties were lifted, Boyer said.

Monday, Jordan Benjamin, spokeswoman for The Gap Inc., said the company doesn't have formal plans to move to The Gateway.

"At this point there are no new Salt Lake City stores that are currently in the pipeline," she said.

Benjamin said she couldn't speak to rumors that Old Navy is also considering closing its 400 South store near 700 East in preparation for a move to The Gateway.

"We have not made any announcements specific to that (400 South) store," she said.

Anderson said people should be resigned to seeing Main Street in a constant state of flux until the area and the economy become less volatile.

For instance, Anderson said, although Old Navy is leaving, the city recently helped bring six new small businesses — mostly small restaurants — to Main Street. Other improvements include dozens of new parking stalls on Main Street, the chess tournament and the nearly weekly community festivals at the Gallivan Center, Anderson said.

Still, Anderson conceded that after 5 p.m. when office workers go home, Main Street activity does cool off.

At the University of Utah's Bureau of Economic and Business Research, director Jim Wood said Old Navy's departure is consistent with the current trend away from retail on Main Street and toward office space. In the past decade, Main Street office space has burgeoned from 1.5 million square feet to 3 million square feet, Wood said.

"It's a continuation of the trend that's been going on for years, and that's less retail on Main Street," he said. "Free-standing retail on Main Street is a tough proposition."

Still, Wood said some retail could survive on Main Street.

"Main Street will always be a place of some retail, the question is how much," he said. "What's going to happen is the market is going to decide these things. That's the clear case of what happened with Old Navy."

Back at City Hall, David Oka, executive director of the Salt Lake City Redevelopment Agency, says he is "prospecting" for new Main Street firms.

The plan is for The Gateway and Main Street to co-exist successfully, Oka said. In order for that to happen, the city has to target specific businesses for downtown.

For instance, he said, downtown would be an ideal locale for a winter sports equipment manufacturer or a ski industry magazine publication. Oka also wouldn't be opposed to creating even more office space on Main Street if that's what the market can bear.

"Main Street is in an evolution right now," he said. "We have to be a little smarter about how we go about attracting retail."

Oka is partnering with the Economic Development Corporation of Utah, which is chartered to help cities find out-of-state business that might be a good fit. Oka said they are looking at almost any business that might be nearing the end of its lease as a possibility for downtown Salt Lake City.

As for Old Navy, Benjamin said the store just wasn't profitable. Despite having to continue paying its lease of between seven and eight years, Old Navy felt it made better business sense to close on Main Street than stay open.

"It was no longer beneficial to keep the store open," Benjamin said. "It didn't materialize like we wanted it to."

The store opened in August 2000.


E-mail: bsnyder@desnews.com