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An estimated 50,000 people descended on City Creek Center Thursday for the long-awaited debut of a new retailing experience that many hope will spark a renaissance for downtown Salt Lake City area.

The sprawling new mall officially opened at 10 a.m., but eager shoppers began gathering as early as 1:30 a.m. Thursday to be first in line for everything from new shoe releases at Foot Locker to free gift cards from Macy's, Forever 21 and H&M.

"City Creek is what Salt Lake City needs to give new life to downtown," said Nicole Cox of Holladay. Julian Gonzales, 16, of West Valley City remembers as a younger kid coming to parades "and seeing an old and gloomy downtown. This is great," he said.

On hand at the opening were Gov. Gary Herbert; Thomas S. Monson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; and Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker.

Among the shoppers, many were drawn to the new Nordstrom, which offered free beauty consultations and breakfast before the store opened.

Carol Gray, 92, of Salt Lake City, said she remembers the glory days of downtown from the 1950s and 1960s. "This is every bit as wonderful but in a different way," she said.

Pattie Thaxton of Farmington and her daughter, Megan Harding from Bountiful, came to City Creek Center to see the mall's Forever 21, H&M and Tiffany stores. But they said they were most excited about Nordstrom. "We've been waiting and waiting for this store to open," Thaxton said.

The original Nordstrom store closed in 2007 when two aging malls were razed to make way for City Creek, and Blake Nordstrom, the company's president, said Thursday that management wasn't sure at the time whether the company wanted to be part of a new project. Back then, there were few details available for what would be built in its place, he added.

The upscale retailer is more than pleased with its new home.

"I don't know of any other community that could have pulled this off," Nordstrom said. "This center is spectacular. There are communities across the country that are envious" of what Salt Lake City has done, he added.

At H&M, lines began forming around 2 a.m. for the popular, value-oriented fashion retailer. The downtown location is the retailer's second in Utah; the first is at Fashion Place mall in Murray.

Many shoppers arrived early to shop at Foot Locker, too. Ness Mobley,22 of Riverton, began standing in line in front of City Creek Center just after midnight. Hours later, he was among 90 boys and men waiting to get into Foot Locker for new shoe releases.

For much of the day, Foot Locker employees had to regulate how many customers could enter the store to avoid having too many people inside at the same time.

Likewise, Kristena Preston of South Jordan had to wait in a short line to enter Disney Store, another shop so popular that the retailer had to limit the number of customers through the door. "I'm super excited about this store," she said. "We love anything Disney."

The Disney Store operated in the old Crossroads Plaza mall, but was closed along with all the other stores in the mall before it was demolished to make way for City Creek Center. For several years, the only Disney Store location has been at University Mall in Orem.

City Creek staff said that although the mall became crowded as the day wore on, a sense of calm prevailed. "People here are pretty civil," said shopper Travis Sorenson of Orem.

Among those greeting the curious and the obsessed on Thursday was Nicole Christie, a featured buyer for H&M on NBC's reality show "Fashion Star."

"We're excited to have a store here," said Christie.

More than one-third of City Creek Center's merchants are new to Utah or new to the Salt Lake area. One of the retail newcomers is 77kids by American Eagle.

Area manager Kim Masten said that until now, Utah shoppers could order the retailer's newborn-to-size-14 girls' and boys' clothes and accessories only online.

Debra Wright of Layton drove from Davis County to check out a number of stores, including 77kids. "City Creek has a variety of stores we don't have up there," she said.

Taubman Centers chief operating officer Bill Taubman said those stores will help bring people to downtown Salt Lake City who might not come otherwise.

For several years, retired barber Don Brown has been photographing the rise of City Creek, shooting more than 1,000 photos of the 20-acre development for his private collection. One recurring thought during the economic downturn has been how fortunate Salt Lake City has been in its efforts to revive downtown.

"This is going to give the city a big economic boost," he said. "It's a good plan that perhaps other cities could follow to get us out of this economic crisis."

The massive City Creek project has been 10 years in the making, with construction taking nearly four years. The mall is part of the larger City Creek project, which includes offices, condos and apartments, and was built by the development arm of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

City Creek Center, which is owned and operated by Taubman Centers Inc., will have about 90 retailers and restaurants in 700,000 square feet of space, including anchor stores Macy's and Nordstrom. The mall is bounded by West Temple, South Temple, State Street and 100 South. —

Selected specials at City Creek through Saturday

77kids by American Eagle • 20 percent off entire purchase

Chico's • 20 percent off entire purchase

Claire's • 20 percent off entire purchase

Express/Express Men • $10 off purchase of $50 or more

Hagermann's Bakehouse Cafe • Mention City Creek Center and receive a free cookie

The Limited • 40 percent off entire purchase

Yankee Candle Co. • Free votive candle —

Bring your canine friend (on a leash!)

City Creek Center has gone to the dogs.

The mall is one of several operated by Taubman Centers Inc. that allow dogs in the common areas.

"I think it's a great idea," said Sheri Rosenblatt of Park City, who was at City Creek Center Thursday with her two standard poodles.

A mall employee welcomed her and handed her a "Canine Code of Conduct" card, she said. The mall also furnishes guests a list of stores that welcome dogs.

Dogs at City Creek Center are required to be on leashes and aren't allowed in the Food Court, in restaurants, on escalators or in the mall's landscaping or water features, a mall spokeswoman said. Owners are responsible for cleaning up after their dogs. The mall even provides stations throughout the property with the tools for the job.

Taubman chief operating officer Bill Taubman said each of his company's shopping centers that allow dogs periodically reviews policies to ensure that those who bring their dogs and those that don't are both happy.