It should come as a surprise to no one, but according to an initial report by ABC 4, City Creek isn’t helping surrounding businesses.
ABC’s article seems to be as much a rough collection of notes as an actual news report, but the main idea it’s trying to convey is that since the opening of City Creek, most other area businesses have returned to their pre-City Creek activity levels.
The article points out that the surrounding businesses haven’t necessarily been hurt by City Creek. However, as an engine of widespread and overall downtown growth in Salt Lake, City Creek already appears to be failing.
As I mentioned above, this fact should surprise no one. Some buildings and developments are designed to disperse people into surrounding areas. Others are designed to contain people within a boundary. Malls — even the best of them — inherently fall into the latter category.
City Creek is beautiful, but as a mall it's generally designed to focus people inward, or in other words to contain them. That means that few visitors actually get out into the surrounding areas of downtown.
Obviously, the long-term impact of City Creek remains to be seen. However, for the time being it appears that the benefits of LDS Church’s $2 billion “investment” in downtown Salt Lake City may be limited to the actual mall facilities themselves.
This news should serve as a major wake up call to Provo. There are people in Provo who would like to see a City Creek-style development in downtown Provo. I’d certainly love to see a major financial investment in downtown, but as City Creek demonstrates, there are better development models to use than malls. In general, any downtown development should be undertaken with an eye to dispersing pedestrian traffic through both new and existing spaces.
ABC’s report may also foreshadow the what is about to happen with the upcoming Tabernacle Temple and the Utah Valley Convention Center: these two developments may ultimately contain their users, rather than dispersing them into downtown. Sadly, no one seems to be seriously considering this very real possibility.
However, City Creek demonstrates that wide-eyed optimism and a mountain of cash simply aren’t enough. Indeed, I can envision a few years from now ABC running almost the exact same report, but with the words “City Creek” replaced by the words “Provo City Center Temple.” And in the case of the temple, it won’t aim to generate any significant income on its own — unlike City Creek — meaning the economic benefits may be fewer than many people hope.
The heartbreaking thing about this whole issue is that unlike Salt Lake City, Provo’s downtown development still has the potential to avoid the the inadequacies of City Creek, but we nevertheless seem to be marching in that direction anyway. Ultimately, there’s no reason to be pessimistic about downtown Provo, but we’d be fools to ignore evidence that may very well spell trouble.
City Creek is a beautiful mall, but it's still a mall and as such doesn't necessarily encourage people to patronize non-mall businesses. Though the objectives are different, Provo's upcoming LDS temple and convention center may also fall into the same trap.