SALT LAKE CITY (News4Utah) – Operation Rio Grande is set to end in nine months. But during its time, officials with the Gateway Mall and the Downtown Alliance say it’s helped revitalized the shopping center.
During the 2000s, the Gateway Mall was known as the lively and popular spot of downtown Salt Lake City, showcasing the 2002 Winter Olympics’ legacy.
“It was kind of the jewel of this city for downtown to have a property of that caliber here,” said Jacklyn Briggs, marketing director of the Gateway.
Ten years after the mall’s debut in 2012, business started to decline with the opening of the City Creek Center just blocks away. The nearby homeless shelter did not help the matter.**
“With the loss of those retailers, the company that owned it were not wanting to put more capital into the project and so they really let a lot of things go like general maintenance issues,” said Briggs. “As time wore on, with the addition of other centers, the Gateway kind of became a neglected center.”
Eventually, Gateway Mall became a ghost town. Some visitors told News4Utah they felt unsafe with the uptick in crime, drug, and homeless activity at the time.
“There wasn’t a lot of things here. There was a lot of homeless people and there wasn’t good security back then,” said Devin Koontz, a visitor at Gateway Mall.
The shopping center finally saw some hope when Vestar bought the property in 2016 and invested $100 million in it to date.
“People had such fond memories of the Gateway. It had gotten to the state where some people were afraid to come down here,” said Briggs. “There was this mentality that it wasn’t safe so there was a lot of work that we had to do.”
Since then, Briggs said they’ve focused on making the Gateway its own unique entertainment center, instead of a competitor with surrounding shopping malls.
“Originally, it was a retail shopping destination and there still is that component. But they’re bringing in new businesses, there’s art installations, there’s murals, there’s events happening pretty much everyday,” said Ryan Mack, Director of Marketing and Communications of the Downtown Alliance. “They’ve done an amazing job using vacant spaces for different uses. For example, the old Urban Outfitters was changed into the Hall of Breakfast, which is a big art installation they brought in and people came from all over the state to check it out.”
Briggs said Operation Rio Grande played a big role in their revitalization efforts, reducing the number of crimes reported by 90 percent. Now, the Gateway can focus on being a place where Utahns can work, shop, eat, and play all year long.
“This area is safe and there’s no reason to have any fear when you come down here at all. There’s tons of people around and there’s really no reason to be concerned,” said Mack.
“There’s a lot more stores. There’s a lot more security. I really like it,” said Koontz.
So what’s next for the Gateway Mall? Briggs said Recursion Pharmaceuticals will be opening soon, bringing 400 employees to the area as well as Kiln, a new coworking company. As far as events, she said to be on the lookout for their new Yoga and Beer series.
“It’s great to see the Gateway alive again with people and that’s just going to grow. The residences and the community around here are building as well as the workforce here so we’re just excited to be part of that,” said Briggs.
**Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly implies The Road Home shelter opened ten years after the Gateway Mall. that is incorrect, the Road Home shelter has been operating in its present site since late 1988.