Paul Beebe, The Salt Lake Tribune -- Three years after demolition of the Crossroads Plaza kicked off construction of City Creek Center, the massive retail, residential and office project in downtown Salt Lake City is beginning to take shape.

"Finally, we are seeing significant changes to the skyline because construction has (emerged) above grade," said Mark Gibbons, president of City Creek Reserve Inc., a real estate arm of the LDS Church, which is developing the mixed-use project just a few steps from Temple Square.

Although the church hasn't revealed what it is spending to build City Creek, estimates have put the project at $1 billion or more, with an average of $1.6 million a day paid out for materials, services and wages for construction workers, which today total 1,700 at the project's peak.

The project is widely credited for keeping the worst of the recession in Utah at bay. And when completed in 2012, City Creek is expected to spark more economic growth in the area.

The development will encompass three blocks and 20 acres on land also formally occupied by the ZCMI mall, the old Key Bank tower and other buildings. It will include 900,000 square feet of retailing anchored by department stores Nordstrom, on West Temple Street, and Macy's, on the east side of Main Street.

Harmons Grocery Stores will begin construction of a market on the south side of Social Hall Avenue, east of State Street, within six months, Gibbons said Tuesday during a discussion of downtown economic development conducted at O.C. Tanner Co.'s newly reconditioned flagship jewelry store on State.

Already, a food court off State Street and 200 parking spaces have reopened beneath the new KeyBank tower on State. The first of 700 condominiums and apartments in five towers will be ready for occupation early next year. Demand is high, Gibbons said.

"You will start to see the 24/7 activity of residents," he said.

Office space will total 1.6 million square feet in eight buildings, supported by 5,000 subterranean parking stalls. Six acres of public space will be sprinkled through the development, and a man-made creek will run across the property.

City Creek already is reshaping downtown. Since the beginning of this year, 29 new businesses, including 17 nightclubs, restaurants and pubs have opened on or around Main Street.

"It's given a lot of people confidence," said Seth Radford, who opened the Bay Leaf Cafe on Main Street this summer.

City Creek is a key part of a broader revitalization under way in downtown Salt Lake City, several business people who took part in the discussion said.

Jake Boyer is president of the Boyer Co., which developed The Gateway retail, office and residential project. He said occupancies at the new Hyatt Place hotel on 400 West is meeting expectations, despite weak business conditions in the city.

Boyer Co. also is laying plans to start construction a sixth office tower at The Gateway next year, he said.

The new 222 South Main office tower, scheduled to be completed this month, received a certificate of occupancy Monday. Twenty percent of the building is leased, and the first tenants will move in sometime in January, said Bruce Bingham, a partner at Hamilton Partners, the developer.

Itasca, Ill.-based Hamilton Partners was selected last month by the city's Redevelopment Agency to develop a Broadway-class playhouse on Main Street, between 100 South and 200 South. Hamilton's partner is Garfield Traub Swisher.