Last night I had a series of terrible dreams. One involved lava bombs. The neighbor’s home (who happens to be my bishop) was blasted to smoldering flames, my old pickup caught one squarely in its rusted bed, then my house was battered, dead center in the master bedroom. Naturally, I was standing in the driveway, barefoot, crouching down as hell rained upon the neighborhood. I ran into the house to get my wife, but suddenly realized she was still in bed (it must have been early). Crying, I tried to get up the stairs but lava was splashed about, seriously impeding my progress and then barring my way finally. Knowing her fate, as dreams are often omniscient, I went to the little cabinet where somehow there were spare car keys, grabbed one for the new car and rushed outside, hoping to get up north to check on . . . I don’t know what. The dream went on, predictably getting worse until I woke.
When fully conscious, I started to wonder if this dream was somehow prophetic. (I’m generally not subject to such things, but you never know.) Then I thought, maybe this is all about Jeff Bezos.
Bezos, as you may know, is chairman and CEO of Amazon. And Amazon has presided over a sea-change in the U.S. economy, (some call it a disease) mediated by the internet revolution. Nowhere has the sea-change been more evident than in the recently passed Christmas holidays. Brick and mortar outlets suffered relative downturns, by and large, while retail cash expenditures flowed to, yes, the dot com businesses. Places like Best Buy have begun to function as proxy show rooms for items eventually purchased online and dot com outlets are looking to increase margins by taking over their own shipping enterprises (Amazon itself is now famous for its prediction of robot-drone-delivery operations.)
The whole thing has misled investors in the retail space, where some savvy CEOs saw the sea change for what it was, and started online components to their brick and mortar outlets (a prime example over the last earnings season is Starbucks — investors bid the stock down when considering year over year numbers, but failed to take into account the huge bulge in income postponed to the opening quarter of 2014 via electronic buying of future items).
What this all means is that the Shopping Mall, its boom era presided over mostly by Boomers, is probably dying, at least in its present form. Huge land investments for sprawling enclosed retail space have proved to be less than profitable of late. The model may be dead. Witness the good old “University Mall” in south Orem, Utah. Drafty empty spaces dominate the structure.
So, what does this mean for the Church’s investment in the downtown Salt Lake City extravaganza, “City Creek?” First, I’ve got nothing but praise for the ambience of the enterprise. It’s first rate as a picture of 21st century fantasyscape. What’s not to love about the place? What I’m wondering about is its economic sense. I know its meant to serve a rejuvenated downtown residential scene. The condos are great, if a little out of my eventual retirement income price range (if I had only bought a few thousand shares of Apple when it was 7 bucks).
But City Creek was never designed as just a retail forest. It was, and is, supposed to be a downtown gatheringplacemecca for the new Salt Lake City. A place that centers around a Temple Square for the 2000s, a modern tip of the Kirtland iceberg where prosperity is supposed to reign amid Zion.
Will it be that, given the sea change in retail? Well, it’s a nice place to read a book.