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The LDS Church unveiled sweeping plans Tuesday to remake - and redefine - downtown Salt Lake City by demolishing nearly 20 acres of cookie-cutter malls and replacing them with a walkable, upscale City Creek Center.

Shoppers would be able to browse along a resurrected, pedestrian-only Regent Street or meander next to a representation of City Creek. The new retail tenants aren't known, but the hundreds of new residents who would live on the blocks would be able to snag sushi, flowers or artisan breads at a nearby full-service Harmons.

But before the church's new retail, residential and office buildings rise, there would be a lot of destruction, including the razing of two historical buildings and the Key Bank tower.

The project won't be complete until 2011. In the meantime, Nordstrom and Macy's would close - in January. They are slated to return - along with a possible third anchor, two restaurants and up to 130 other to-be-determined tenants.

The plans, three years in the making, wowed City Council members, business leaders and other developers, who described the project as "spectacular," "historic" and "world class."

"It literally vaults Salt Lake City into the future," said downtown cheerleader Lane Beattie, president of the Salt Lake Chamber. "It's probably the most important announcement since Brigham Young turned an ox cart" - one of the city's first urban-planning ventures after Mormon pioneers entered the valley in 1847.

But the project won't be without controversy. Besides demolishing the Inn at Temple Square, 71 W. South Temple, and the old First Security Bank Building, 79 S. Main, the church would need city approval for a sky bridge linking the two properties.

The church formally unveiled the plans - it already had privately briefed city politicians, planners and other downtown landowners - amid a media circus at City Hall.

LDS Presiding Bishop H. David Burton presented site plans to the City Council to applause from the overflow crowd. The conceptual drawings show an unrecognizable Main Street, with open-air pedestrian paths through the two mall blocks, fountains, a glass-roof arcade over some of the project and six acres of green space. Water would flow through the two blocks in a series of ponds, falls and a streambed; there would be a 47-foot drop in the water from the current ZCMI Center block to Crossroads Plaza.

Housing is generating the most buzz. Some 200 condo units would stand in four new structures on South Temple - all with "marvelous" views of Temple Square, Burton noted. Another 100 apartment units would sit atop of some of the retail. The church has left spots on 100 South to add two more residential towers when the market ripens.

In addition, the church would add another 200,000 square feet of office space where the First Security Building sits and 5,600 underground parking stalls.

Redevelopment would spill across State Street.

Utah-based Harmons has signed a letter of intent to buy land on the block between State Street and 200 East to open a full-service grocery store in 2008 to serve the new downtown residents and those in neighboring Avenues and Capitol Hill. The store would include a full-service deli, fresh-salad and olive bar, artisan bakery, meat counter, floral shop and pharmacy. On top, Utah-based Cowboy Partners - which erected condos at The Gateway - would build around 100 condo units.

"I imagine there's going to be a wide spectrum of households that are going to have a lot of interest in being down there and being a part of it," Cowboy Partners' Dan Lofgren said. "That energy is sort of magnetic, isn't it?"

Burton said the church is "committed to doing this project the right way."

"This can set the course for Salt Lake downtown for generations to come. The church for the last 160 years has heavily invested in Salt Lake City. This is another example of that kind of investment. We hope this would be an engine to energize others to have the same kind of exuberance about Salt Lake City" as the church and its development partners have.

The church has paired with Michigan-based Taubman Centers Inc., whose tenant sales in its 21 malls averaged $508 per square foot in 2005, the highest in the nation. Its store in Denver, the Cherry Creek Shopping Center, is a top tourist attraction.

William Taubman, the retail developer's chief operating officer, attended Tuesday's briefing and said his company was interested in Salt Lake City because it reminded him of a smaller version of Denver. He likes that the Wasatch Front is growing, has a strong work force and lures millions of visitors to ski and see Temple Square.

He predicted City Creek Center would be the "dominant upscale shopping center" in the market and will draw suburban customers.

The new mall is sure to compete with The Gateway, four blocks to the west. Taubman acknowledged some of the tenants who would want to open next to Nordstrom and Macy's are now at The Gateway. "Retailers will need to decide where they have the best opportunities for sales," he said.

Still, of the 100 to 130 retailers the company plans to attract, Taubman hopes 20 percent to 40 percent would be new to the market. Burton said church-owned Deseret Book and Utah-based Mr. Mac would be included. And Utah Woolen Mills would remain at its current South Temple home.

Brooke White, spokeswoman for Nordstrom, said the department store has a letter of intent to reopen in spring 2011, while cautioning that things could change. The store would have preferred to remain open during the renovation, which was the initial plan, but the construction proved too complex. Store employees may find jobs at other Nordstroms, or the company would provide severance. White wouldn't say if Nordstrom is being compensated for the 4 1/2 -year hiatus.

"Ultimately, we didn't want to leave Salt Lake," she said.

The church is embarking on the estimated $1 billion project - the actual price tag (which won't require city funds) won't be known for another year once architectural drawings are complete - to protect the environment around Temple Square, its most sacred site. And the church's ecclesiastical teachings are evident in plans for Sunday store closures. Burton noted the church is trying to re-create the "same ambiance we have on Temple Square."

He later said he misspoke and meant that visitors should notice a link between the landscaped feel of the mall blocks and Temple Square.

The green space the church would add will be privately owned - as is the case with other outdoor malls. Councilwoman Jill Remington Love said she hoped it wouldn't be like the church's Main Street Plaza. "Retail, we want to have a certain energy and vitality to it," she said.

"This is clearly a commercial venture," Burton said. Taubman stressed the same. City Creek Center would offer a "whole different kind of function" than Temple Square, Burton added.

The proof? Restaurants at the mall - on property not owned by the church - would serve liquor. And no church-related functions are planned on the blocks.

Burton said the church would bring back once-thriving streets buried by the malls - Richards Street, Regent Street and Social Hall Avenue. They would draw Temple Square's 5 million visitors into the shops and effectively create eight blocks out of two, he said.

Councilman Soren Simonsen was pleased at the idea of turning the malls inside out. But he is disappointed the church is going to demolish the Inn at Temple Square for a new housing tower and the First Security Building for new office space. Burton said both buildings require seismic renovation. The church somehow would reuse the historic ZCMI facade that now fronts Macy's.

"It's unfortunate the architectural heritage of these blocks is being completely lost," Simonsen said.

Taubman said those buildings aren't functional.

"Communities never stand still. We're not a Victorian painting."

At one time, Mayor Rocky Anderson criticized the church's renovation plans, saying malls don't work in downtowns. Now the mayor, on vacation in Germany, says City Creek Center would garner Salt Lake City "international" acclaim for its unique features.

"It's the most positive thing for our downtown that's happened in my lifetime," he said before departing for Germany. "This project will help revitalize our downtown area like nothing else could."

However, he doesn't like the plans for a sky bridge.

Instead, he is thinking about connecting the malls by closing off Main Street between South Temple and 100 South to automobile traffic and perhaps allowing mall structures to be built on the roadway. The mayor stressed the idea is his, not the church's. The topic is sensitive because of the church's controversial purchase of Main Street a block north for its plaza.

Burton agreed the concept probably would negate the sky bridge, but added, "I don't have much of an appetite" to pursue it because of the plaza experience.


* STEVEN OBERBECK contributed to this story