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After several months' delay, the new owners of The Gateway say efforts are well underway to revitalize the open-air mall on downtown Salt Lake City's western edge.
Phoenix-based Vestar, which bought the site in February, said its $30 million overhaul is coming in waves, bringing "fundamental upgrades across the board" to buildings, common areas and parking lots all designed to rebrand the center as a retail, entertainment and dining destination.
Vestar said its prior accelerated timeline for Gateway improvements had given way to a gradual approach, in light of years of deferred maintenance under the site's previous owners, the Illinois-based shopping center chain Retail Properties of America.
Jenny Cushing, vice president of leasing at Vestar, called Gateway's remake "a core refresh that goes well beyond mere cosmetic changes."
"This is more than just a makeover," added Bergendi Hatch, creative director at The Gateway. "We're rebuilding the foundation."
The initial goal, Hatch said, is "creating a safe space where things work the way they should."
That will serve as a springboard, she said, for added visual upgrades and scheduling a range of festivals and community events to reshape the retail center into what Vestar calls "an experiential, urban playground."
"Our location and our influence are vital," Hatch said of the city's downtown, "and we're taking that role seriously from top to bottom."
Exteriors on several of the 623,205-square-foot mall's beige-colored main buildings have been painted over with off-white and light gray, which Hatch said will serve as a kind of canvas for further aesthetic improvements.
Crews are also overhauling tenant spaces, sidewalks, escalators and elevators, as well as lighting, signs and circulation in the underground parking lots.
Work is likely to continue through spring, Hatch said, with all the 15-year-old mall's facilities remaining open and fully operational through the holiday season.
Along with Gateway's face-lift, Vestar said it seeks to attract a range of new Utah retailers, concept restaurants and entertainment venues to complement The Gateway's 80 existing shops and businesses, a roster that includes a Larry H. Miller Megaplex Theatre, Wiseguys Comedy Club, Barnes & Noble, Victoria's Secret and Dick's Sporting Goods.
Vestar owns and operates more than 50 open-air retail properties in Arizona, California, Texas and adjacent states, many of them with a mix of venues and outlets appealing to millennials. Retail spaces in The Gateway were about 75 percent full when Vestar and partners Oaktree Capital Management bought it from RPAI.
"We're actively engaged in finding ways to rethink and revitalize every touch point for visitors," Cushing said, "so we can bring this area back to life in some new, creative, lasting ways."
At the same time, Vestar has launched a lighthearted ad campaign within the mall, with posters that juxtapose negative comments on social media with upbeat replies from mall managers.
"It has potential, but ughhhhh," wrote one Gateway critic.
"We're listening," managers reply. "It's time for some updates."
Hatch said the company also continues to work closely with city officials to mitigate effects from large encampments of homeless people clustered around The Road Home's shelter, just to the south.
Mall managers have boosted security within the shopping center, while easing up on earlier access restrictions it had sought to enforce at some of the mall's street entrances.
"There's only so much we can do on the perimeter," Hatch said.
An official with one of the mall's key tenants Discovery Gateway children's museum said she had "noticed a significant change in safety and operations at The Gateway."
"It's an exciting time, for sure," said Laurie Hopkins, the museum's executive director. "It's encouraging to know that Vestar is a committed partner in preserving and promoting our mission here."