Confident in a turnaround, community events move into The Gateway

SALT LAKE CITY -- The Urban Flea Market is opening a winter market this Sunday, bringing its cultural zeitgeist to The Gateway.

The popular event will move into four empty storefronts inside the mall, taking up space every other month for its event that draws local artisans, antique dealers offering vintage finds, food trucks and entertainment.

"The vibe here is very urban, very downtown and hip," said Michael Sanders, the Urban Flea Market's organizer.

The Gateway mall on Nov. 10, 2017. (Photo by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

In summers, the Urban Flea Market draws thousands at 600 South and Main. But a development project there has forced them to relocate. Last year, they held an event at the Utah State Fairpark. But Sanders said he believes The Gateway is making a comeback.

"Look at what they're doing to The Gateway!" he exclaimed, motioning to the food trucks and video tower looming above the dancing fountains.

Since it was purchased by Vestar last year, millions have been poured into turning around the troubled mall, which saw tenants bolt for the new City Creek Center on Main Street. Beyond the new coat of paint and outdoor furniture, The Gateway's owners are looking at transforming it from a traditional mall to an entertainment destination.

"It's part of a larger strategy we've been working on," said Edie Trott, the marketing director for The Gateway.

Dave & Buster's, a massive game-themed entertainment restaurant, will open there next year. That will complement the Depot concert venue, Wiseguys Comedy Club, the Larry H. Miller movie theaters, Clark Planetarium and a children's museum.

A sign announces tenants at The Gateway. (Photo by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

Tenants are starting to come back to the area. Trott said she anticipated six new leases being signed by the end of this year.

To lure community events to The Gateway, they've offered financial incentives, she said.

"We offer this event grant to sizable events that are hosted throughout the city and other parts to help fund them and bring them to The Gateway so we can offer that destination, the entertainment," Trott told FOX 13.

On Friday, the Downtown Alliance announced it was moving its rebranded New Year's Eve celebration "Last Hurrah" to The Gateway. The Illuminate festival takes place Friday and Saturday night.

Lara Fritts, the economic development director for Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski, said The Gateway is finding a new niche the city needs. More activities and entertainment are a draw for the neighboring housing, she said, and it pairs with the improvements to the Vivint Smart Home Arena.

"We hear time and again from our local employers that in order to retain their workforce, we really need more activity and vibrancy," she said.

Younger consumers also tend to go for "experiences over stuff," said Fritts.

Obviously, one of the problems that has impacted The Gateway is still across the street. The downtown homeless shelters aren't scheduled to close until 2019. But with "Operation Rio Grande" under way, state officials have said the neighborhood has been quieter.

"Things are already changing," Fritts said.

Sanders said he was confident in The Gateway. If his winter market is a success, he was considering adding a summer market.

"We think The Gateway is a much better fit for us," he said.