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In our opinion: Two Salt Lake retail malls are bucking the trends

As Christmas nears, many Utahns will inevitably visit a local mall to finish some last minute shopping. But, with more consumers purchasing gifts online, large retail malls are hurting. And increasingly investment for such ventures is hard to find. But in Salt Lake City, there appears to be a reversal of fortune for at least two mall properties — the storied Trolley Square and the newer Gateway mall west of downtown.

The Gateway is poised to undergo a potential $100 million renovation, while Trolley Square is looking at spreading out across the street while giving existing buildings a makeover.

These investments are a sign of a healthy economy, population growth and a rising public demand for community gathering places where people can mix, shop, dine and be entertained. Both Trolley Square and the Gateway are important to their respective neighborhoods, which are themselves seeing a surge of interest among people attracted to the perks of urban living.

The decision to invest heavily in the Gateway is a counterpoint to notions that problems of crime and homelessness in the Rio Grande district will force an exodus of businesses. The Gateway owners see a future in which those problems are manageable and not threatening to the success of a residential, retail and entertainment district. Investors were undoubtedly encouraged to learn of the cities recent decision to remove The Road Home and disperse homeless services beyond Gateway’s neighborhood.

Likewise at Trolley Square, where the neighborhood is undergoing transformation as property values rise. The owner of the property has worked hard to gather public input in the expansion plans, telling The Deseret News, "It's a project that really is not as much mine as it is the neighborhood's. We all want to have input so it's going to turn out to be something that everyone takes pride in."

Both shopping facilities have experienced a boom-bust-boom cycle. Trolley Square thrived for decades before falling onto hard times and eventually going into receivership in 2013. The opening of the Gateway in 2002 was believed to have hurt customer traffic at Trolley Square. The thriving City Creek Center downtown was in turn believed to have taken traffic from the Gateway. It appears now the trajectory has changed and all three properties are seeing prosperous trends going forward. This bodes well for their patrons and neighbors alike.

The Trolley Square expansion will include a number of affordable housing units, which the city needs more of to help ameliorate the homeless problem. In that sense, the new Trolley Square will have beneficial impact on the atmosphere surrounding the Gateway. The era in which malls focused on competing against each other appears to have ended in Salt Lake City, a town that’s now big enough to support a thriving diversity of cultural and commercial neighborhood centerpieces.