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Sundays, alcohol at malls draw strong views

Alcohol and Sunday sales — two topics that have long divided Utahns, often along religious lines — continue to draw strong, opposing opinions, according to a new Deseret Morning News/KSL-TV poll.

The survey follows acknowledgment by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that its new downtown mall redevelopment project will include restaurants that will serve alcohol but that no part of the development will be open on Sunday.

The poll shows that while many LDS faithful disagree with the decision to serve alcohol, most non-Mormons support the sale of liquor at the yet-to-be refurbished ZCMI Center and Crossroads Plaza malls.

The Dan Jones & Associates poll, conducted for the Deseret Morning News and KSL-TV, surveyed 414 Utahns this past week, including 225 who said they were "very active" LDS Church members.

Among those "very active" members, 49 percent said the malls should not serve alcohol. Only 19 percent said the malls should be able to serve alcohol, while another 23 percent said individual restaurant owners should be allowed to make the call. Another 9 percent were undecided. A majority of all other groups, including Catholics, Protestants, other religious groups and those without religious affiliation, said alcohol should be served at the malls.

The poll also showed differences between those surveyed in Salt Lake City and in Utah as a whole. All told, 35 percent of all Utahns said the malls shouldn't serve liquor, 34 percent said they should and 28 percent said the decision should be left to the individual restaurants. Among Salt Lake residents, only 21 percent oppose alcohol sales, 48 percent approve and 28 percent want to leave the decision to restaurants.

Many non-LDS residents have said they appreciate the church's decision to allow some alcohol sales at restaurants and see the move as a gesture of good will to the non-LDS community.

On the issue of doing business on Sunday, the church administration's decision fell in line with the views of "very active" church members. Of those respondents who said they are active members, 62 percent agreed the malls shouldn't be open on Sunday, with 7 percent saying they should and 26 percent saying individual store owners should decide.

Throughout Utah, a smaller plurality of all those surveyed — 39 percent — said the malls should be closed on Sunday, with 29 percent wanting them to remain open. Another 28 percent said store owners should decide, and 4 percent didn't know. Zeroing in on Salt Lake City, 40 percent believe the malls should be open on Sunday, 28 percent favor closing them and 30 percent want to leave it up to store owners.

Again, religion played a key role in attitude. A large majority of Catholics, Protestants, those with other religious affiliation and those without religious affiliation said the malls should be open on Sunday.

LDS Church spokesman Dale Bills said the decision on alcohol came, in part, because outside developers will own portions of the new malls. Only in those non-church owned portions will alcohol sales be allowed.

"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has consistently made plain that in matters of public policy it is not opposed to responsible consumption of alcoholic beverages by informed adults," Bills said. "In the downtown redevelopment project currently being planned by the church, a limited number of high-quality restaurant tenants who will operate on land not owned by the church may apply for licenses to serve alcoholic beverages in accordance with existing state regulations."

The LDS Church has previously said that Michigan-based shopping center developer Taubman Co. will help develop and partially own portions of the mall. William Taubman, executive vice president for the developer, told the Deseret Morning News earlier this year that it would be impossible to draw certain high-end restaurants to the mall unless they were able to sell alcohol.

As for Sundays, Bills said no parts of the new project will be open — even areas in the malls not owned by the church.

Mayor Rocky Anderson, who in the past has wished for Sunday openings and alcohol sales, praised the church's decision on liquor and didn't seem too dismayed with the Sunday closings.

"In a lot of large cities, Sundays are oftentimes a ghost town," Anderson said. In Washington, D.C., for instance, "things are pretty quiet" on Sunday, the mayor said.

And if the church's downtown project is closed on Sundays, other city businesses be able to draw more customers on the Sabbath, Anderson said.

"They will be cranking on Sundays," he predicted.


E-mail: bsnyder@desnews.com