Walking past the new Gateway development is, in a word, strange. It’s as though someone took one of those fantastic Orange County, Calif., shopping malls and dropped it where the railroad yard used to be across the street from the homeless shelter. It’s spectacular, no doubt about it. While they were at it, perhaps the Boyer Company development firm could have moved the Pacific Ocean inland, too.
Gateway’s got a certain retro look about it, all done up in pastels of yellow and pink—although it’s much too large to be out of the 1930s. The entire town of Bountiful could fit inside the complex, which boasts over 1 million square feet of retail and office space. The promotional advertising hearkens to the ambience of the Roaring ’20s, with the new development buttressed up against the historic Union Pacific Station at 100 S. 400 West. It’s almost as if, yes, for a second you’re there—on a set in Hollywood with Robert Redford. Or is it Disneyland?
Walking through this new mall/village, you’re almost expecting to see mechanical talking parrots or cliff divers or Larry H. Miller. That the owner of the Jazz NBA franchise and the Mayan restaurant has a 12-screen Megaplex cinema in Gateway shouldn’t come as a surprise. Another thing that’s remarkable about this amusement park/office complex is that just about every powerbroker in town has put his weight and the taxpayers’ money into it, with the notable exception of Mayor Rocky Anderson.
The Salt Lake County Commission floated something just short of $20 million in bonds to get the Hansen Planetarium in there. Just recently, the state Board of Regents and the Utah Board of Former Mayor Deedee Corradini cleared the way by getting the railroad yard moved and declaring the area “blighted” so the developers could reap huge tax breaks through the city’s redevelopment agency. Sweet.
It’s just too bad that more housing was not included in these grand plans. Perhaps we’ll get that in phase II—if there is one.
But the real price of Gateway has yet to be tallied. If, as some suggest, it sucks away Main Street commerce leaving the traditional downtown more empty than it is now, the cost will have been too great. How well Gateway will succeed is anyone’s guess. If the Mayan restaurant, where mechanical toucans jabber, is any indication, it will be a big hit.
But what Gateway lacks is the kind of feel that you find in places like San Diego’s Gas Lamp District or San Antonio’s Riverwalk, San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf or even Trolley Square right here in Salt Lake City. Kurt Vonnegut Jr. might have labeled Gateway a grand falloon—a creation that stands apart from the history and tradition.
Like it or not, Salt Lake City’s future is tied to Gateway. If it creates vibrancy and new business—things the greater downtown area desperately needs—then it will indeed be the gateway to a better future. But if it simply pulls customers and commerce from Salt Lake City’s other shopping districts, then it will have done more harm than good.