Five years ago Utah Stories produced its first documentary video asking why Crossroads Mall and the ZCMI Center were being torn down just thirty-five years after they were built to construct the City Creek Center.
This was a question no other media outlet was asking. Instead, all they reported on was how wonderful the City Creek Center would be, and how great it was that the LDS Church was investing $1.5 billion in the blighted downtown Main Street shopping district. I was amazed that there wasn’t a single story questioning the sense in destroying buildings that had presumably run their course 35 years after they were constructed. Nobody was shedding any tears over the destruction of the malls, which had no historical nor architectural value, but still, nobody was questioning why they were built in the first place.
It’s worth mentioning that the City Creek Center investigation was my first experiment into hyper-local journalism. After graduating from the University of Utah in Journalism and Film, it became clear to me that the main-stream media in Salt Lake– like much of the country — simply doesn’t want to ask tough questions, nor do investigations that require compiling several sources to paint a larger picture. Asking the “why” required too much time and energy when they were completely focused on the “what”. Especially the “what” that had the least amount of relevance to daily life.
For this investigation I interviewed Tony Weller of Weller Books, Bart Stringham from Utah Woolen Mills, John Speros from Lambs Grill and the late Richard Wyrick (Mr. Downtown) of Oxford Shoes as well as city planners and historians. What I learned —besides how knowledgeable and eloquent all these men were on the important issues of downtown— was that not only was the media neglecting the voices of the small business, but city leaders were also neglecting the interests of the business owners who literally built downtown, with their hard work and tax base they paid over 150 years. Instead of helping these folks they were working to entice corporate America to invest in Salt Lake City to put the locals eventually out of business.
This investigation clearly presented that politicians and city leaders have forgotten that 80% of their tax base comes from local small businesses, not corporate America. It is to the great detriment of locally-owned and operated businesses that city leaders provide huge tax incentives for chains to open their businesses in their area, while they do nothing for locally owned small businesses in terms of tax breaks. This doesn’t provide a level playing field nor a “free market”. This trend continues to the detriment of no only small business owners, but even more greatly to the culture of towns and cities across the West. A man I recently spoke to said, “When you find the same 10 stores in every city in America, Where is there any sense of culture or place?.” A good question, I didn’t have an answer.