Published Column

Quality Growth: The Best Means of Achieving Sustained Economic Health and a More Livable Community

by Rocky Anderson

Salt Lake City is rated in the most recent edition of Places Rated Almanac as the “Number One Place to Live” in the United States. Our economy is strong, our unemployment rate is consistently low, and our quality of life is extraordinary. We can maintain the very best of our community, and build upon it, if we support our existing businesses and resist the trend of homogenizing cities by subsidizing chain stores and downtown-destroying malls. In short, long-term vitality results from quality growth.

Loyal, locally-owned businesses deserve our support. When we “buy locally,” our economy is strengthened and our quality of life is enhanced. Consumer dollars are regenerated within our community and we help preserve the charm and uniqueness local businesses provide.

plan-for-mega-mall.jpgThose considerations should also guide our decisions regarding public subsidies. We are better off helping Sam Weller’s Books and The King’s English Bookstore avoid the lamentable fate of Waking Owl Books (a wonderful bookstore that was forced to close last year) than pouring public funds into developments comprised of national chains. Those chains are driving out independent booksellers, whose market share has declined from 58% in 1972 to just 17% today.

We have a relatively fixed retail-spending market. Wishful thinking notwithstanding, the retail segment of the Gateway Project will divert consumer dollars from existing retail areas of our city. Likewise,the proposed Grand Mall would divert limited retail spending, further undermining local merchants.

My efforts to preserve the retail sector in our downtown area and to assure that public investments are not used to undermine the existing business community have been enthusiastically supported by members of the Downtown Alliance, Vest Pocket Business Coalition, and the Downtown Retail Merchants Association. Likewise, Utah’s weekly business newspaper, The Enterprise, endorsed my mayoral candidacy because of my position on these matters. My Administration remains committed to quality growth and to fiscal policies leading to a long-term healthy business environment.

‘Sprawl Mall,’ Reliant on Corporate Welfare, Would Undermine Downtown, Increase Pollution

Most residents of Salt Lake City understand what is becoming clear throughout our nation: Sprawl development destroys our downtown areas, increases air pollution and dependency on automobiles, and undermines all that is best about livable neighborhoods, including small, locally-owned businesses.

Currently, a developer is proposing to build a 1,300,000 square foot mega-mall at the intersection of I-80 and 5600 West. A recent Deseret News/KSL poll reflects that 58 percent of Salt Lake City residents oppose locating the mall at its proposed location, with only 36 percent in favor. Although one vocal proponent of the mall proclaims that “the west side welcomes sprawl,” the vast majority of people throughout Salt Lake City are saying “No” to the sprawl-inducing mall project.

The “outlet” mall being proposed by the out-of-state developers would be comprised primarily of national chain stores, which ship all of their profits and most payments for support services out of our community. With an 11,000 stall parking lot (nearly 10% larger than the public parking lots at the Salt Lake International Airport), the mall would generate approximately 54,000 car trips daily. The developer speculates that shoppers will be coming from long distances to shop at the Sprawl Mall. If that is true, the mall development, at full “build out,” could generate over one million additional car miles traveled in our valley each day. Also, the mall would consume 7% of all open land now available for future development within Salt Lake City.

The proposed mall would seriously undermine our current struggling retail businesses. A recent analysis commissioned by the City Council projects that 90% of mall revenues would simply be diverted from other metropolitan area retailers. No wonder mall managers, developers, and many business owners throughout the Salt Lake Valley oppose the Sprawl Mall.

Those who believe than government should stay out of the way surely would be offended to know that the Sprawl Mall developers are requesting huge sales tax rebates and the waiver of impact fees – rebates and waivers not available to loyal, long-time local businesses.

At a time when downtown property owners and developers are unable to find tenants to fill the substantial vacant retail space along Main Street and in the Gateway Project, the proposed mall project is already exacerbating the problems we face in revitalizing our downtown area. That is why the Sprawl Mall is opposed by numerous business organizations, including the Downtown Alliance, Vest Pocket Business Coalition, and the Downtown Merchants Association.

What is the alternative? Growth with grace. Smart, long-term transit-oriented development. A revitalized downtown, with places where people from throughout our city – and our visitors – will gather together. Less air pollution. Less asphalt. More transportation choices, rather than developments that force everyone to drive a car. A free-market business environment that offers fairness for all businesses. Livable neighborhoods, with retail outlets near where people actually live – not 40 blocks away from the closest residential areas, like the proposed Sprawl Mall. Support for our existing business community, property owners and local developers. And, finally, a commitment to long-term growth principles that will lead to a healthier, sustainable, more livable community.

What of the argument that if the Sprawl Mall locates in West Valley City, Salt Lake City will suffer all the negative impacts, with none of the benefits of increased sales tax revenues? It’s a question of identity, long-term-vs.-short-term economic benefits, and fairness to those who have already invested in our City.

Tourists do not come to Utah to visit West Valley City’s look-alike chain stores. But they do come to Salt Lake City to enjoy the charm and uniqueness of our community – qualities that will be undermined by a mega-mall within our City’s boundaries that is merely a copy-cat of chain-store malls elsewhere.

It would be a sad day indeed when threats by West Valley City to build a huge chain store mall can dictate to the Salt Lake City Council what direction we should take in terms of long-term planning for growth. Elected leaders in vibrant, beautiful communities with huge tourist appeal – like Boulder, Portland, and Seattle – would never compromise their commitment to smart long-term development because of the threat of sprawl developments in neighboring communities. That’s why those communities have maintained their own identities and charm – and that’s why they offer tremendous appeal to tourists and new businesses. In Salt Lake City, for the sake of a better community and the attraction of new businesses, we need the same type of consistent, principled leadership.

While the rest of the country is finally discovering that sprawl development is inimical to the long-term interests of communities and the people who live there, our City Council is struggling with the question of whether we should support, with massive sales tax rebates and impact fee waivers, the enormous Sprawl Mall. The people who live and work in our City can make it clear to our Council that we oppose the Sprawl Mall because we favor the revitalization of our downtown area, because we are committed to orienting development along mass transit routes, and because we seek to build our community so that we are less reliant on polluting automobiles. We must communicate to the City Council that in-fill development, with retail outlets in walkable neighborhoods, is preferable to a huge, sprawl-generating chain-store mall.

Much is at stake here. This is about far more than just having another place to shop. It is about our commitment to the revitalization of our downtown. It is about long-term growth planning. It is about fairness to our existing, locally-owned businesses. It is about the prospect of bringing conveniently located retail outlets to west-side neighborhoods, rather than locating a mega-mall far from any residential areas. It is about making our communities people-friendly, rather than making the polluting automobile the focus of our planning – and of our daily lives. And it is about defining for ourselves and our visitors who we are and what kind of a community we are building.