When it opened last fall, critics were quick to point out that Gateway is a fake city. Duhhhh. It’s just like Disneyland, they said. Doubting the Disneyland comparison, I just spent the last five days in Anaheim checking things out. I discovered this: Gateway is not at all like Disneyland; Disneyland has lines. Except for the Roots store, Gateway is basically the home of nanosecond service, thanks to the paucity of visitors. Actually, Gateway is similar to Downtown Disney, the faux city nightlife and shopping emporium sandwiched between Disneyland and California Adventure. Clearly, the Gateway critics didn’t do their homework when it came to accurately choosing metaphors.
But what distinguishes Downtown Disney from Gateway—as far as fake cities go—is this: Downtown Disney isn’t the main attraction. The Disney people are smart enough to know that you don’t mess with a good thing, so they retain Mickey Mouse as the main attraction for miles around. If you happen to end up popping $70 bucks on Po’ Boy Sandwiches at Brennan’s in Downtown Disney, OK, fine. Not so in Salt Lake City, though. For some reason, Gateway and our other malls are hailed not only as the main attraction, but used as leverage by those casting doom over Salt Lake City. That’s backwards. Our leaders can’t seem to find their mouse.
Figure it out. Everyone’s wasting a lot of time and energy worrying about losing Nordstrom. They’re worried about the Crossroads Mall, the ZCMI Mall and Gateway, too. Well, it’s a sorry city that builds its formula around attracting people to malls in the first place. I mean, isn’t the Fashion Place Mall Nordstrom infinitely more convenient to most people living in the Salt Lake Valley? Hell yes, it is. And if that’s the case, why come downtown to shop at all?
You could take all three Salt Lake City malls, combine them into one, and you’d still have a downtown in trouble. Our malls should perform like Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck and the rest—as role players. For decades, careers have been won and lost while rebuilding Salt Lake City, but those folks are using Toontown as the model. They keep referring to studies taken 40, 30 and 15 years ago, as if something magical will pop out and rejuvenate Salt Lake City. Here’s the City Weekly cure—again: Bring jobs back to downtown, bring residents back to downtown, bring fun back to downtown—and kick Earl Holding’s ass back to Idaho, because everyone forgets he sapped the energy from the south end of town all by himself. Let him deal with Nordy.
It’s not fair to cast Gateway as panacea or poison. It’s a friggin’ shopping mall—one that could use a decent cup of coffee, a barber, a place to buy cheap shoes, a newsstand and a taco vendor. On the surface, it’s a fair copy of Downtown Disney. Unfortunately, Salt Lake City isn’t upholding its end of the bargain as star of the show.