The City Creek Mall

Relevant Corporations

Entity

Type

Short Description

City Creek Reserve Inc

Nonprofit, 501(c)(3).[1]

A real estate investment affiliate of the Church and the "Master Developer" of City Creek Center.[2]

Property Reserve Inc

Nonprofit, 501(c)(3).[3]

The commercial real-estate development arm of the Church.[4]

Ensign Peak Advisors Inc

Nonprofit, 501(c)(3).[5]

The Church's investment arm,[6] which reportedly has a fund of $100 billion dollars.[7]

Taubman Centers Inc

For-profit, REIT and retail.[8]

A real-estate investment trust that manages City Creek Center.[9]

Why did the Church build a mall?

Primarily to improve downtown Salt Lake City.[10] At the time, downtown Salt Lake was in an economic downturn and urban blight neighbored key Church properties.[11] Church headquarters and Temple Square are in downtown Salt Lake City,[12] so the Church has a vested interest in making it a nice place to live, work, and visit.[13] They decided that the City Creek Center urban redevelopment project was the best way to do that.[14]

City Creek Center in downtown Salt Lake City, photo credit visitsaltlake.com.

Is that a normal thing for churches to do?

No, not really, at least not at this scale.[15] But it is something churches can legally do.[16]

How much did it cost?

The actual cost is not public information, but most estimates are around $1.5 billion.[17] When the Church started developing the mall, local interest groups raised another $3.5 billion to improve more of downtown.[18]

Did tithing pay for it?

No.[19] City Creek was privately funded, didn't use government subsidies, and didn't incur debt.[20] The mall was developed by Church real-estate entities, City Creek Reserve and Property Reserve.[21]

But really though? What about gains from invested tithing—wasn't there a lawsuit or a whistleblower report about that?

Though tithing wasn't used, returns from invested tithing[22] were used to develop City Creek.[23]

A whistleblower's report from former Ensign Peak Advisors employee David Nielsen[BIO] claimed tithing was spent on City Creek.[24] That claim became the basis for a lawsuit from former member James Huntsman.[BIO][25] Huntsman's lawsuit was dismissed by a federal court.[26] The judge ruled there was a difference between tithing and funds from invested tithing and found the Church committed no fraud in the funding of City Creek. [27]

Are gains from invested tithing sacred? Should that money be used on a mall?

Maybe. Court documents show that Ensign Peak Advisors employees consider the funds they manage to be sacred, even if used for a project like City Creek.[28]

Couldn't the Church have used City Creek development money to feed or house people instead?

Yes, but they didn’t.

But shouldn’t they have?

Maybe? Although the Church spends a portion of its annual budget on direct humanitarian assistance as well as supporting welfare programs,[29] some people think City Creek isn't justified by comparison.[30]

Others think City Creek is a reasonable expenditure.[31]

President Henry B. Eyring speaking at the grand opening of the City Creek Mall in March of 2012.

Is this an example of the Church trying to take over Salt Lake City?

Probably not. Salt Lake City Mayor (at the time) Ralph Becker (D)[BIO] said, "If the LDS Church was not so sensitive and responsive to community concerns, that could be a problem. But in my experience, at the Legislature and on the Planning Commission, the LDS Church has bent over backward to try and be responsive to community goals — and to a community vision that isn't necessarily the same as what their vision is."[32]

Other officials shared this sentiment,[33] while some were less warm.[34]

Does the Church enforce standards like modest dress at the mall?

No. However, Taubman Centers Inc. does have a standard code of conduct for the mall,[35] and for a dress code, aside from “No shirt, no shoes, no service,” you can pretty much wear what you want.[36]

Can you buy coffee, alcohol, or tobacco in the mall?

Yes. Shoppers can buy coffee, tea, alcohol, and tobacco in the mall.[37] Drinking is limited to licensed restaurants (e.g., Cheesecake Factory),[38] and there is no smoking in the mall.[39]

Isn’t that hypocritical?

Possibly. Mall vendors sell to the Salt Lake City public—the majority of whom are not members of the Church.[40] Also, Taubman Center,[41] a non-LDS private corporation "owns and operates the retail components of City Creek."[42]

Is the mall closed on Sunday?

Yes.[43] It's also closed after 8 or 9 p.m. on other days of the week.[44]

What’s the mall like?

City Creek Center is 23 acres of shopping, dining, and residences.[45] There’s a huge retractable glass roof,[46] a skybridge across Main Street,[47] lots of greenery,[48] art,[49] a fountain with fire and water,[50] and an artificial river with fish in it.[51]

Does the Church make money off it?

Yes.[52] As an owner and shareholder, the Church gets paid when the mall does well.[53]

Are City Creek profits taxed?

Some of it. The IRS recognizes City Creek Reserve, Inc. as a non-profit organization.[54] Income that falls outside of the scope of its non-profit status is taxed.[55]

Does the Church pay property tax on the mall?

Yes. The various mall properties are valued by the Salt Lake County auditor and taxed accordingly.[56]

Has the mall revitalized the downtown economy?

Yes, it seems to contribute to the economic health of Salt Lake City.[57] City Creek Center employs over 2,000 people and has attracted millions of visitors.[58] The first year it was open, retail sales for all of downtown SLC went up 36%.[59]

Is the mall environmentally friendly?

Reasonably friendly, for a mall. The mall recycled half the rubble from demolitions in the mall's construction, favors public transit and walkability, and employs energy- and water-saving techniques.[60] The U.S. Green Building Council LEED-certified City Creek Center in 2012.[61]

Some People Say . . .

"The Church owns for-profit businesses and can do whatever it wants with the money from those."

— overheard in Sunday School

The Facts

  • The Church invested about $1.5 billion to build a shopping mall.

  • No tithing money was used, but interest from tithing money was used.

  • Non-profit companies (like the Church) are allowed to invest in for-profit businesses.

Our Take

It’s weird for a church to spend a billion dollars on a mall, and it’s okay to feel uncomfortable about it.

Some people feel that the Church spent too much on something that has nothing to do with the Gospel of Jesus Christ—money that could have been spent on charity. The Church did accomplish the goals they set out to do with the investment—they staved off urban blight and revitalized the local economy.

It’s okay to think that City Creek was an overstep. It’s also okay to think that City Creek was wise stewardship. Whatever you think, the corporate and financial management of a global Church is a reality that is sometimes difficult to align with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

What's Your Take?

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These takes are curated for a general audience and may contain minor edits when posted.
  • Daniel
    While I agree that it’s ok to feel uncomfortable about it, I have very rarely heard anyone actually express discomfort. I think most people have absolutely no problem with it, it’s just a few very vocal opponents who have turned it into such a big issue.
  • Jordan W.
    As far as I’m concerned, this is a fine example of investing ten talents and earning ten more (Matthew 25:14-30). The church did nothing wrong in increasing the financial resources of the Kingdom of God by successfully investing in and blessing its local urban neighborhood.
  • Paul
    I don't have a problem with this at all. Making money with your money is responsible. The real issue is . . . is there corruption? Like did President X or Elder Y get kickbacks and go buy a Bentley? I don't see any evidence for that.
  • Jimbo M
    Many members are gainfully employed. They are blessed by paying tithes and offerings. They have more money to spend in the mall. This means more revenues for the mall. Everybody wins.
  • Matt W
    I have no problem paying tithing. I'm 48 and have done it all my life. Investing is a worthwhile activity, it shows that money isn't being wasted.
  • Jesse P
    The question to me, I guess, is whether or not the Church should invest tithing. If it's morally okay for them to put tithing into stocks or other stuff, then is a mall any different? Is this a good way to multiply the talents? They'll be accountable for their stewardship.
Footnotes