Danielle and Max White drove more than 130 miles from Richfield to see the center, almost 10 years in the making.
"It's unreal what they have done," said Danielle. "It's surreal, you feel like you're somewhere else. It's definitely different than anything we've ever had before."
It's true. City Creek Center, with more than 90 retailers and restaurants, will be the only shopping center of its size opening nationally this year.
Those who attended the event, which included appetizers, live music and shopping discounts, were impressed with the mall's architectural features including a retractable skylight roof, a skybridge over Main Street, two 18-foot waterfalls, a meandering creek and lively fountains.
It all reminded shopper Janet Healy of something one might find on the East Coast or Europe not Salt Lake City.
"We've finally grown up," she said.
The mall is part of the larger billion-dollar-plus City Creek project in downtown Salt Lake City, which includes offices, condos and apartments, and was built by the development arm of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Taubman Centers, a real-estate investment trust that owns or operates 26 shopping centers nationwide, worked closely with the LDS Church to develop and build the 700,000-square-foot center. In all, Taubman's investment in City Creek Center will total $76 million, and the company anticipates an 11 percent to 12 percent return, Chief Operating Officer Bill Taubman said Wednesday.
Rather than own the property outright, under the terms of its deal with the church, Taubman has agreed to lease the mall property on a long-term basis from the church, an arrangement similar to what's in place in Denver, where it operates Cherry Creek shopping center.
Even though the property is the only Taubman-owned mall in which shops won't be open on Sundays, the developers believe shopping dollars will simply be redistributed to the other six shopping days.
"Sunday is a less important day in this market than others," Taubman said.
However, not all the shoppers at Wednesday gala agreed.
"I'm disappointed that it won't be open on Sunday," said Angela Healy, who works on the 10th floor of the nearby Zions Bank building and has watched the project rise from a massive hole in the ground. But she was pleased to learn that the center's two restaurants The Cheesecake Factory and Texas de Brazil Churrascaria will be open on Sunday. They also will be the only two eateries that serve alcohol.
Even the Nordstrom café will be alcohol-free at City Creek.
Jason Mathis, executive director of The Downtown Alliance in Salt Lake City, said the fact that City Creek has a limited number of eateries is a plus for a host of nearby restaurants such as Caffe Molise, Martine and Naked Fish Japanese Bistro.
"They will totally benefit from the fact that City Creek Center doesn't have tons and tons of restaurants," he said.
But the overall mall project, he says, will be a great benefit to Main Street, which has struggled over the years as construction of the project lingered.
"There's this spillover retail effect. There are stores that may not want to be in the mall or who can't afford that rent but who want the proximity and the cache the mall provides."
One-third of the mall's tenant lineup is new to Utah or new to the Salt Lake City market, including jewelers Tiffany & Co. and Swarovski, luxury sportswear chain Michael Kors and high-end handbag purveyor Coach.
Plus, although Fashion Place in Murray has a Nordstrom, the one at City Creek will have a much different and distinctive merchandise mix, including two Gucci boutiques.
"There are a lot of things that are unique to this [City Creek Center] store," said John Bailey, a Nordstrom spokesman.
Although there has been speculation that the conservative LDS Church had some type of role in approving tenants in the mall, Taubman said that wasn't the case. The absence of tenants such as Victoria's Secret or Starbucks have nothing to do with the church, Taubman said, but rather the normal dynamics of filling a shopping mall.
On Wednesday, shoppers were generally impressed with the store lineup and believe it will be the start of something good for the capital city.
"It's a step up," said Tammy Rindlisbacher, of Taylorsville. "People will be coming back to the city for this."