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Gateway Facelift Aims to Bring More Unique Shopping Experience to Salt Lake City

Salt Lake City—When Vestar purchased The Gateway in February, it did so with the intent of resurrecting a former gem of Utah’s capital city, said Jenny Cushing, vice president of leasing.

Faced with competition from the newer City Creek Shopping Center and struggling with being a stone’s throw from Salt Lake’s centralized homeless services, Cushing said the key in revitalization was innovating new ways to re-establish The Gateway as a destination for shoppers.

“In order to succeed, [the goal] isn’t to compete—it’s to be what no one else has done,” Cushing said.

The new face of The Gateway will be more focused on food and beverage, unique retailers, vibrant and engaging art, and a social atmosphere. Cushing said one of the driving factors in taking The Gateway in that direction was Utah’s increasingly hot tech scene and its large population of Millennials. For those living in the area, she said, the events and unique food options will be a draw to the shopping center. For those living in Liberty Gateway—the apartment buildings adjacent to The Gateway—the mall should prove to be an ideal blend of work-shop-live-play convenience, she said.

But before major reinvention could begin, she said, Vestar has had to bring the mall back to a reasonable starting point for improvement. Among the first tasks after the purchase was to hire more security staff and make visitors feel safer. The shopping center has gotten a new coat of paint, and the parking garages have been renamed, relit and repainted, and will soon get a redesign to improve traffic flow.

“There hasn’t been any money put into this property for almost five years,” Cushing said. “We want to renovate our house, but first we have to clean it up.”

The new coat of white paint on the buildings will provide a better canvas for art that will dot the mall, including block-long murals, projects incorporating elevators or escalators, and sculptures and statues. The goal is to make art pop up in unexpected places, Cushing said. In addition, artificial grass will be installed in various locations to make miniature “parks” featuring illuminated furniture, light-up swings and see-saws built for adults, or suspended picnic tables.

“We want to make it an urban playground,” Cushing said. “Everywhere you turn, there should be something fun and interesting.”

Artificial grass will also be installed on some parts of the stairs near the fountain to provide a soft spot to sit during the bevy of outdoor concerts, movies, festivals and other draws—Cushing said Vestar intends to schedule 250 to 300 events per year, most free to the public—in the fountain area. During the wintertime, the fountain will be converted into an outdoor ice skating rink. Overlooking the area, the old train depot will be converted into a 4-star boutique hotel, Cushing said, though the neighboring concert venue, The Depot, will be preserved, as it will help to cultivate the experiential feel of the mall.

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All told, Cushing said, Vestar is investing $100 million into the project—more than three times the $30 million initially pledged. The company is pleased with how the renovation is going so far, she said. The original timeline placed the completion of the project at three to five years, she said, but the work has gone so smoothly thus far that the timetable has been moved up to two to three years.

“We have moved mountains,” she said. “We are very excited with how fast this is going.”

Cushing acknowledges some minor hiccups, both real and perceived in the project. Some shoppers have also expressed concern at the mall’s gradually emptying food court, she said, but in that case, those vacancies are part of a larger plan. Part of the renovation will be converting the existing food court into a food hall—a dining option focused more on fresh food and chef-inspired meals than traditional food court options.

“In order to change the face of The Gateway, sometimes you have to change the face of The Gateway,” she said. “It’s all strategy; it’s all planned. It’s a process. It’s spring cleaning. What is perceived negatively by the public is progress.”

Additionally, Vestar bought The Gateway with the understanding that the city’s centralized homeless services, currently located in the nearby Rio Grande area, would be decentralized—an issue the city will be tackling in coming months.

“It’s a temporary issue,” Cushing said, lauding Salt Lake City’s efforts to curb crime in the area surrounding the shelter and decentralize the services.

Cushing said several announcements will be forthcoming in the next few months about new retailers, the food hall and the boutique hotel. Primarily, though, she said, all of the effort Vestar has and will put into The Gateway is to help the stores populating it succeed.

“Our intent is not to take away from the shopping experience; it’s to enhance it,” she said.

And no matter how far Vestar has gone in the last 10 months, Cushing said the company knows it still has a long way to go—but it’s ready for the challenge.

“There’s a lot happening behind the curtains than is visible to the naked eye,” she said. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint. We’ve got our running shoes on, that’s for sure.”