I’ve made a few (usually snarky) comments about the LDS Church’s ongoing City Creek Mall project. To recap, the church tore down the old (and dying) Crossroads Mall and ZCMI Center Mall in downtown Salt Lake City. The massive new mall complex is to be called City Creek and will include retail stores, office space, and luxury condominiums. The announced cost was originally $750 million. Currently, the estimate is $3 billion, and as I mentioned, some insiders expect the final cost to be in the neighborhood of $8 billion. Presumably the money is coming from the pooled resources of the entities held by Deseret Management, the church’s holding company.
A lot of ex-Mormons (and some active Mormons) have expressed dismay and some outrage at the church’s project. I think the main reason is that many ex-Mormons regret having donated 10% of their income to the church, and it’s doubly galling that the money they gave is going toward such business enterprises. And in a sense they are right because money that could otherwise have augmented church programs has been diverted to this large project. Indeed, at the very time the church is undertaking this massive expenditure, local church budgets and staff have been cut quite a bit.
It’s telling that the church, with every announcement about the project, insists that no tithing money is being used to pay for it, as if they recognize that such a large expenditure on non-religious efforts will raise some eyebrows in the church. Ultimately, however, the church’s money, even their for-profit entities, at some point originated in religious donations; the church could not have funded these for-profit businesses without some seed money, which of course had to have come from donated cash or property.
But that’s really beside the point. It may surprise some people, but I don’t have a problem with the church’s mall project. It’s their money, and they can do what they want with it. I take them at their word that their primary goal is to prevent the area around Temple Square from becoming urban blight.
In my more cynical moments, I have said that the church’s twofold mission is growth and income. I know, officially the mission of the church is to invite people to “come unto Christ,” but in Mormon terms that means joining the LDS church and obeying its rules, including paying tithing. I’m not alone in my cynicism, of course. A number of years ago The Economist discussed LDS proselytizing in terms of “return on investment” for each convert. They concluded that, even at low retention rates, the church profited from its missionary program (you have to admit that’s much more cynical than I am).
From a purely mercenary perspective, a business case can be made for the mall project. That said, the church started the project at a time when real estate prices were very high, and now, with the continued weakness in real estate (some say the commercial real estate market is about to crash) and the explosion of the project’s budget, the church is unlikely to recoup its investment anytime soon.
But again, the church made a business decision that is theirs to make, and I don’t begrudge them that decision. I’m no longer a stockholder in that corporation, as I don’t contribute tithing money anymore.