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Gateway editorial misleads

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On Aug. 29, 2003, the Deseret Morning News published an editorial titled "A Good Decision on Gateway." It discussed the decision of the Salt Lake City Planning Commission not to recommend a Gateway area zoning change to allow department stores.

I respect the opinion given and the paper's right to discuss such important issues. I would expect, however, with the LDS Church owning the paper and also the projects that are considered by church real estate as competitive to The Gateway, the editorial page editors would hold themselves to the highest standards of professionalism to ensure accuracy and fairness. Unfortunately, I think the editorial has been careless with the facts and misleading.

First, the writer misrepresented The Gateway Master Plan "to be a small-retail, restaurant and residential area." On the contrary, the Gateway Specific Plan states The Gateway District will consist of "large scale facilities" and a "cohesive retail shopping center" (Page 21, The Gateway Specific Plan). Furthermore, the Creating an Urban Neighborhood document published by the city states the "Union Pacific Sub-district is an important corridor of large scale attractions." The focus will be on "shopping, entertainment/retail, open space, major employment, residential and hotel and cultural uses," (Page 8, Creating an Urban Neighborhood). City planning staff said in their report to the Planning Commission that "it is not unusual to find one or more department stores serving as anchors in the retail component of an urban entertainment center such as The Gateway." We feel The Gateway is much more than "a dry cleaners and veterinarian shop" and should be allowed anchors to compliment the fashion and other retail components already in place.

Second, the writer states that some of the 47 blocks downtown that currently are zoned for department stores actually include Sugar House or other areas not a part of the retail center. I repeat, there are 47 blocks in "downtown" that allow department stores. Sugar House, Trolley, Redwood and North Temple are all areas in addition that allow department stores. Nordstrom, for instance, could locate at 900 South and 300 West. It seems incredible that it can't locate in The Gateway, three blocks west of Temple Square! The Planning Commission saw the problem with these inconsistencies on Wednesday night (Aug. 27) and has asked staff to relook at the "definition of department store" and the extensive number of blocks that now allow department stores as a "permitted use."

Third, the writer implies The Gateway and Crossroads and ZCMI cannot survive together; therefore, The Gateway should fold up its tent and go home. This is heavy-handed and presumptive. Mr. Como from Meier & Frank testified Wednesday, "if Nordstrom were allowed to go to Gateway, ZCMI and Crossroads would fail." I hope that the long-term strategy for those properties does not rely totally on that premise. Frankly, it sounds self-serving for Meier & Frank, which recently announced that it is closing 34 stores. I also hope it doesn't reflect the position of church ownership. I am convinced that the church can and will do an excellent project even if Nordstrom does go to The Gateway. Why wouldn't we want to retain Nordstrom somewhere downtown as it has stated clearly it won't stay in Crossroads. There are numerous examples of cities with several strong retail components that work well together under an "abundance theory" to promote strong viable downtowns.

Finally, the writer stated that "Gateway exists in large measure because of public subsidies from the city. If the free market alone were in play here, we're not sure the project ever would have been constructed." The facts are that more than $300 million has been spent on The Gateway so far, and the project has received less than $700,000 from the RDA. Over 20 years, The Gateway is entitled to receive 37 1/2 percent of the increase in property taxes generated by increased valuation of The Gateway real estate. This money is intended to reimburse the developer for infrastructure built in a former rail yard and for restoring the Union Pacific Depot. These numbers would hardly indicate that public monies drove the development of The Gateway.

In conclusion, I would again appeal for the highest standards of journalism and fairness, especially when the paper reports on topics where a conflict of interest clearly exists.

H. Roger Boyer is chairman of The Boyer Co.