July 2, 2012

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Article

Under Construction

A Robust Economy Spurs Development across the State

John Coon

July 2, 2012

Every revolution needs a starting point. For downtown Salt Lake City, that point of origin is the brand-new City Creek Center.

Long before it officially opened for business in March, the $1.5 billion mixed-use development was being hailed as unique, unprecedented and revolutionary. Those words only scratch the surface in describing the impact it will leave on the downtown area.           

A walkable community, City Creek features a healthy mix of world-class office space, upscale retailers, and pristine apartments and condominiums. A 30,000-square-foot retractable glass roof can cover the retail galleria on bad weather days, and a sky bridge spans Main Street to connect both blocks. Walking paths crisscross through each block, where both shoppers and residents can enjoy seeing an array of unique fountains and a recreated section of the historic City Creek.

"The entire City Creek project is revolutionary in terms of the way it's transforming Salt Lake City,” says Linda Wardell, General Manager of the City Creek Center. “What it's doing for our city is giving our residents a more walkable town.”

It will also introduce multiple new businesses to the State of Utah. National chains Nordstrom and Macy's will each have a store anchoring the center, but at least two dozen companies will enter the Beehive State for the first time. These upscale retailers—which include such notables as Tiffany & Co. and Michael Kors—will account for a third of the tenants occupying storefronts at City Creek.

This is just the start of new companies from all sectors setting up shop along the Wasatch Front and throughout Utah. The City Creek Center has thrown open the doors for unparalleled growth in the commercial real estate and residential real estate sectors.

"City Creek is really going to be a game changer for the central business district of Salt Lake City,” says Mark Bouchard, Managing Partner for CB Richard Ellis. “Having a project like that, and the type of people it will draw to the downtown area, will do nothing but make us a better market overall. Our ability to do that during a time of slowdown on the national level speaks to the overall strength of our State and our economy here at a local level."

A Targeted Growth Spurt
One factor that has allowed Utah to see economic growth while other states are struggling is a commitment to building transit-oriented communities. A quick tour through the Salt Lake Valley yields evidence of this trend everywhere. From the eBay campus in Draper to Daybreak in South Jordan, creating walkable communities is on the mind of city planners throughout the Wasatch Front.

Many of these developments incorporate TRAX light rail lines or the FrontRunner commuter rail line. The Utah Transit Authority (UTA) has partnered with developers in five different locations to bring some of these developments to life by offering land around transit hubs.

“Transportation at its core is one of the most important factors in the State,” says Christina Oliver, UTA's Department Manager for transit-oriented development. “Just over 80 percent of our population lives within 100 miles of the Wasatch Front. Without an adequate and accessible transportation system, we would be immobilized. Economic development would be stymied in this region generally."

It makes sense for UTA to take an active role in bringing walkable communities to life. A development built around a transit station will spur usage of mass transit much more than a sprawling parking lot. For the cities where these developments take root, it offers an infusion of dollars from new businesses setting up shop and new residents buying homes or condominiums.

Managing growth in a responsible way is the challenge facing community leaders along the Wasatch Front. Utah's distinctive geography gives it an unparalleled natural beauty. It also limits cities and towns from spreading out unchecked in all directions.

Envision Utah has potentially solved this problem with a “3 percent development strategy” to manage urban growth. The principle behind this strategy is that one-third of all future commercial and residential developments along the Wasatch Front should be concentrated upon 3 percent of the available land.

As part of this 3 percent strategy, Envision Utah wants to focus growth and economic centers along major transportation corridors. That means targeting growth around transit stations and creating major mixed-use developments throughout the region. These developments would represent a step forward in redeveloping and revitalizing declining neighborhoods while preserving open space throughout the mixed-use development.

“The 3 percent strategy encourages targeted investment to create exceptional places for working and living while maximizing efficiency and keeping the cost of living in check,” says Christie Oostema, Deputy Planning Director for Envision Utah. “It encourages growth in commercial real estate, residential and retail development in locations where significant public investment in our transportation system has already occurred or is planned.”

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