Mormon church owns mall which has added 2,000 jobs

The interior of the City Creek Center mall in Salt Lake City.
The interior of the City Creek Center mall in Salt Lake City.

Across the street from Tiffany’s and other luxury stores at the City Creek Center, the Salt Lake Temple stands as a symbol of the commercial investment of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The mall, which opened a little more than a year ago, is the centerpiece of a mixed-use development that was financed entirely by the church, which spent, by any estimate, hundreds of millions of dollars.

Although the combination of commerce and religion in this case may seem unusual, business leaders and developers credit the mall with spurring new business and enlivening what had been the faded core of Salt Lake City, home to 189,900.

“The center has added 2,000 jobs and brought more than 16 million visitors into downtown,” according to the Economic Benchmark Report of 2013, paid for by the real estate firm CBRE. Taking into account the improving economy, the report credits the mall with helping downtown retail sales increase by 36 percent, or $209 million, in 2012.

The “mall is the single most important thing to happen to Salt Lake City in 50 years, maybe more,” said Bruce Bingham, a partner with Hamilton Partners, a Chicago-based real estate developer. “It revitalized downtown.”

Mr. Bingham’s company has since completed a $135 million, 425,000-square-foot office building nearby, leasing office space to Goldman Sachs, law firms, financial services businesses, and others. “We’re pushing 85 percent leased,” Mr. Bingham said.

Early next year, Hamilton Partners will break ground nearby for a 24-story, 450,000-square-foot building, estimated to cost $150 million.

Thanks to the success of City Creek Center — and its backing by the Mormon Church — banks considering commercial lending for Hamilton Partners’ newest projects feel “comfortable and safe” when discussing major loans, Mr. Bingham said. The church “will never let downtown fail,” he said. “It’s just too important to let it go awry.”

How much the mall actually cost is still a mystery. Was it, as rumored, $1.5 billion, even $3 billion, in cash?

“As a private organization, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its affiliates do not release financial information,” said Dale Bills, a spokesman for City Creek Reserve, a real estate arm of the church. “Total investment in the City Creek redevelopment has not been disclosed. The project was privately funded without public subsidies and without debt.”

Mark Gibbons, president of City Creek Reserve, said in 2009 that the church planned to spend “hundreds of millions of dollars” as construction began. “We set aside reserves to build this project, we counted the cost before we started, and we have the resources to complete it.”

The development includes 111 rental apartments, which are fully leased, Mr. Bills added. “Sales of the project’s 424 condominiums are steady, with increased interest in recent months as recovery in the residential real estate market brings prospective buyers,” he said.

Babs De Lay, a local real estate broker, estimates the condominiums are “about 50 percent sold out.”

“It’s hard to get data from the LDS church,” she said.

Convention visitors also have been vital to the mall’s success, providing 25 to 35 percent of its sales, she said. The city benefits from year-round visitors to nearby ski resorts, five national parks and, of course, to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, she said.

For some, the mall’s proximity to the temple is an odd juxtaposition, given the temple’s cultural, historical, and spiritual significance for adherents.

But unlike most shopping centers around the country, religious observance does affect this mall, where the shops, except for the restaurants, are closed Sundays.

Franziska Patterson, 35, a Mormon from Burney, Calif., visits Salt Lake City every year but said she would never visit the mall. “I definitely think that, both economically and religiously, this was a very bad decision,” Ms. Patterson said. “If it takes a temple of consumerism to attract potential converts, I feel we are headed in a direction completely opposite to the direction the Gospel encourages.”