Mormonism and church integrity/City Creek Center Mall in Salt Lake City

FAIR Answers Wiki Table of Contents

City Creek Center in Salt Lake City

Summary: Members and critics have questions about the Church's involvement in the redevelopment of the city center in Salt Lake.

Why did the Church get involved in a shopping center?

In early 2003, the Church announced it was purchasing a shopping mall directly south of Temple Square. Because the Church already owned a majority of the land on which the mall was built, this purchase brought the remainder under the Church’s control.[1] The Church did so with the purpose of revitalizing the are directly south of Temple Square because the Church had a “compelling responsibility to protect the environment of the Salt Lake Temple.”[2]

After three years of planning, the Church announced a 20-acre development project called City Creek Center to replace the old shopping mall and several other buildings directly south of Temple Square. The project would be a mixed-use development, which included retail, office, and residential space.[3] Mixed-use developments had become prominent in real estate development because this type of development “ensures vitality through activity and diversity. It makes areas safer. It also reduces the need to travel, making people less reliant on cars, bringing welcome environmental benefits.”[4] All of these objectives are interests of the Church, especially in the environment around the Salt Lake Temple.

Did the Church use tithing funds to finance the purchases and buildings?

In the April 2003 general conference, President Gordon B. Hinckley explained “tithing funds have not and will not be used to acquire this property. Nor will they be used in developing it for commercial purposes.” Instead, “funds for this have come and will come from those commercial entities owned by the Church. These resources, together with the earnings of invested reserve funds, will accommodate this program.”[5] Multiple statements were subsequently made reinforcing the fact that tithing funds would not and were not used for the development project.[6]

Some claims are made that tithing really was used because some of the money came from earnings on invested reserve funds, which funds were set up using tithing donations. However, financial documents have shown that only earnings on invested funds, not the original funds themselves, were used to finance the development project.[7]

Why would the Church put tithing into investment portfolios?

Some individuals wonder why the Church puts tithing into investments instead of donating to the poor.

President Gordon B. Hinckley explained that saving some tithing funds is a fundamental principle of Church finances:

In the financial operations of the Church, we have observed two basic and fixed principles: One, the Church will live within its means. It will not spend more than it receives. Two, a fixed percentage of the income will be set aside to build reserves against what might be called a possible “rainy day.”

For years, the Church has taught its membership the principle of setting aside a reserve of food, as well as money, to take care of emergency needs that might arise. We are only trying to follow the same principle for the Church as a whole.[8]

The tithing set aside as a reserve is added to the Church’s investment funds. Bishop Gerald Causse explained the reason for putting saved tithing funds into investments instead of simply holding the tithing in cash or cash equivalents:

In the parable of the talents, the lord who asked for an accounting from his servants chastised the one who had not invested the money entrusted to him but instead had hid that money in the earth. He characterized the servant as “wicked and slothful” for not investing that money for a reasonable financial return. Consistent with this spiritual principle, the Church’s financial reserves are not left idle in nonproductive bank accounts but are instead employed where they can produce a return.[9]

Did the Church achieve its objectives with the City Creek Center project?

Most analysts agree that the City Creek project was successful in revitalizing downtown Salt Lake City:

New York Times[10]
“The center has added 2,000 jobs and brought more than 16 million visitors into downtown,” according to the Economic Benchmark Report of 2013, paid for by the real estate firm CBRE. Taking into account the improving economy, the report credits the mall, at 50 South Main Street, with helping downtown retail sales increase by 36 percent, or $209 million, in 2012. The “mall is the single most important thing to happen to Salt Lake City in 50 years, maybe more,” said Bruce Bingham, a partner with Hamilton Partners, a Chicago-based real estate developer. “It revitalized downtown.”
Salt Lake Tribune[11]
The International Council of Shopping Centers “selected City Creek Center — winner of a number of other awards since its 2012 debut — and the site's co-designer and operator Taubman Centers for its top accolade as "the most outstanding example of shopping center design and development for 2014-2015
"Main Street is thriving and it would not be if City Creek Center had not been built," said Jason Mathis, executive director of the Downtown Alliance, representing downtown merchants. "I attribute a lot of downtown's success to City Creek Center's development and the design."
BuildingSaltLake.com[12]
“According to data from the Downtown Alliance, since City Creek opened, downtown retail sales have increased 46 percent, retail employment increased 83 percent and downtown hotel room bookings grew by 62 percent. The retail center’s presence also contributed to an 119.7 percent rise in retail wages, 26.9 in food service wages and 74.1 percent in hotel wages.”
While there are multiple factors that have led to the current boom downtown, based on the numbers City Creek has played an important role in bringing more development downtown. “This is our best example of a TOD (transportation oriented development),” said Reid Ewing, professor of City and Metropolitan Planning at the University of Utah. Ewing led a study looking at foot traffic downtown after City Creek opened and found that the block of Main Street between South Temple and 100 South had the highest pedestrian activity than any other block downtown. Ewing cited his vibrancy scale that measures vibrancy based on imageability, enclosure, human scale, transparency and complexity as an indicator of the health of downtown, especially near City Creek. “This (City Creek Center) has it all in terms of vibrancy,” said Ewing.

Further Reading

City Creek Project

  • The most comprehensive review of the finances involved in the City Creek Center project is available in “Order Granting Motion for Summary Judgment,” James Huntsman v. Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, U.S. District Court, Central District of California, case 2:21-cv-02504-SVW-SK.

Church Finances

Notes

  1. "Church to buy Crossroads Plaza mall," Deseret News, 19 March 2003.
  2. Gordon B. Hinckley, “The Condition of the Church,” April 2003 general conference.
  3. "Downtown rebound: LDS Church unveils plans for 20-acre development," Deseret News, 4 October 2006.
  4. Department of the Environment, United Kingdom, 24 July 1995, as cited in A. Coupland, Reclaiming the City: Mixed Use Development (London, E & FN Spon, 1997).
  5. Gordon B. Hinckley, “The Condition of the Church,” April 2003 general conference.
  6. A compilation of statements is available in “Order Granting Motion for Summary Judgment,” James Huntsman v. Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, U.S. District Court, Central District of California, case 2:21-cv-02504-SVW-SK, page 3 of 12.
  7. A financial analysis on these redacted documents is available in “Order Granting Motion for Summary Judgment,” James Huntsman v. Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, U.S. District Court, Central District of California, case 2:21-cv-02504-SVW-SK, pages 7–8 of 12.
  8. Gordon B. Hinckley, “The State of the Church,” April 1991 general conference.
  9. Gerald Causse, “The Spiritual Foundations of Church Financial Self-Reliance,” Ensign, July 2018.
  10. Caitlin Kelly, "Mormon-Backed Mall Breathes Life into Salt Lake City," The New York Times, 9 July 2013.
  11. Tony Semerad, "City Creek Center: Boon for downtown or one of SLC's 'biggest mistakes'? Salt Lake Tribune, 11 May 2015.
  12. Isaac Riddle, "City Creek's impact on downtown growth by the numbers,"BuildingSaltLake.com, 17 March 2017.