Armed with a packet of documents 2 inches thick, the Salt Lake City Council on Tuesday began an exhaustive monthlong process that will end with a decision about whether Nordstrom can move to The Gateway.
With representatives of both the Boyer Co., which owns The Gateway, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints looking on, the process began with Mayor Rocky Anderson's pitch that city zoning should be changed to facilitate a Nordstrom move from Main Street's Crossroads Plaza.
Anderson said retail market conditions have changed since 2000, when he forced The Gateway owners to sign an agreement forbidding shops over 45,000 square feet — like Nordstrom and Target — from opening there.
Those market conditions have changed even more compared to 1998, when The Gateway was built under zoning rules that have since been interpreted to forbid department stores there, argued Anderson's Community and Economic Development director Alison Weyher.
Anderson said the former owners of the Crossroads Plaza, who have since sold the property to the real estate arm of the LDS Church, came through too late on promises to make Nordstrom an offer to stay on Main Street.
"The fact is, month after month went by and no proposals were made," Anderson said.
During the time proposals were supposed to come, the mayor said, the former mall owners were negotiating the sale to the church.
Originally, church officials told him the restrictions forbidding large department stores at The Gateway should be lifted, but the church has since changed its mind, Anderson said.
Anderson said the church's position probably changed because one of its tenants — Meier & Frank, at the church-owned ZCMI Center mall — doesn't support the Nordstrom move.
Weyher agreed that retail conditions have changed in the past five years. More and more "big box" retailers are dominating the market and those big boxes are becoming more and more like department stores, she said.
As this emergence of big boxes evolves, the city's zoning rules should follow suit, Weyher said. Many such big boxes can't find locations on Main Street or downtown because there is not enough open land to build a massive store and accompanying parking lot.
Because these stores can't locate on Main Street, Weyher asked, why not have them near the downtown corridor at The Gateway?
"We do have large big-box stores that do want to locate at The Gateway," agreed planning director Louis Zunguze.
The council has spent $20,000 to bring in two senior fellows from the Urban Land Institute and an economist from Economic Research Associates in Los Angeles.
Those consultants, among others, will testify Thursday for the council's "fact finding" hearing concerning the move. The 5:30 p.m. hearing will be televised live on the city's public access station, cable channel 17, and at 9 p.m. on KUED Channel 7.
Citing poor sales at Crossroads, Nordstrom has said it will leave Salt Lake City if not allowed to move to The Gateway when its lease expires in 2005.
The Boyer Co. has petitioned to have the city's zoning changed to allow department stores like Target and Nordstrom at The Gateway.