Six Salt Lake City addresses eyed for Broadway theater

Center to cost $81.5M, may pull in $3M a year

By Jared Page
Deseret News
Published: July 15, 2008
The playbill for a Broadway-style theater in Salt Lake City features six potential downtown addresses, an $81.5 million price tag and promises of a $3.3 million annual boost to Utah's economy.

Business leaders and members of the arts community who make up the Downtown Theater Action Group have wrapped up 4 1/2 months' worth of work identifying potential sites for a 2,400-seat theater capable of hosting first-run touring Broadway shows.

The group also explored funding options for a downtown theater, as well as the economic and intangible benefits such a venue would have on the city, Salt Lake County and the state.

"We feel this new downtown theater will be a spark plug to encourage the further development of the arts throughout the state and integrate the extraordinary artistic endeavors we find throughout Utah," said Bill Becker, chairman of the Downtown Theater Action Group.

Becker, a Tony Award-winning producer and experienced theater developer, owner and manager, is expected to present a final draft of the group's findings this week to his brother, Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker. The mayor then will take the recommendations to the City Council.

Meeting with members of the media Monday morning, Bill Becker said the committee will recommend that the city immediately begin negotiations with property owners on four sites seen as prime locations for the theater.

Renovation of the historic Utah Theater at 148 S. Main remains a top option, along with the former Newspaper Agency Corp. press site on Regent Street; the parking lot behind the Peery Hotel on the corner of Pierpont Avenue and 300 South; and the parking lot on the southwest corner of 300 South and West Temple, across the street from the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center.

"All four, no matter where the theater ends up being located, would be extraordinary," said Bill Becker, who was appointed by the mayor on Feb. 28 to spearhead the city's theater-development plans. "They would contribute substantially to the economic vitality of Salt Lake City. They would enrich the development of the cultural arts in the city and throughout the state."

Each of the locations has convenient parking, he said, and all are close to the city's mass-transit system.

The committee also is recommending that the city consider two other sites — land available as part of the Camden Centre development planned on the block between 100 South, 200 South, 500 West and 600 West; and a 3-acre parcel immediately north of Grand America on the corner of 500 South and Main Street.

A timetable for the project has not yet been determined, though it's expected that it will be at least three years before a downtown theater could be up and running.

Becker said he's hoping a site can be selected in "a matter of months." The next step is putting together the financing, which he said could take nine to 10 months depending on involvement of the county and state. After that, Becker estimates it will take about a year to design and about 18 months to construct the theater.

The cost for design and construction is estimated at $64.1 million, though the committee boosted that price tag by 10 percent to cover land purchases and increasing construction costs.

The project likely would qualify for assistance from the federal New Market Tax Credit program because all of the proposed theater sites are located in a qualified low-income community as calculated by the area's poverty rate and median income. If Congress extends the program into the next fiscal year, the committee estimates the project could receive between $16 million and $18 million in tax credit financing.

The committee also is recommending that Salt Lake City create a community development area, which would allow the city to return property taxes to the project. The city expects to receive an estimated $18 million in sales tax revenues from City Creek Center when the 20-acre development of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is complete in 2012.

The theater also will generate additional sales-tax revenue when it is constructed, Becker said, and other developments likely will piggyback on the theater's presence.

"It's our view that those revenues — or at least a portion of those revenues — need to be looked at carefully as a source of financial support for the construction of the theater," he said.

Additional funding likely will need to come from the city, county, state and private donors, Becker said.

"I believe that a performing arts facility like this, whether it be located here or in New York City, could not be constructed without privately contributed funds or public funds," he said.

The committee is estimating annual attendance of 175,000 for first-run Broadway shows at the new theater, generating $11 million in ticket sales. In all, the committee estimates the venue will generate about $22 million in economic activity, with about $3.3 million (or 15 percent) coming from out-of-state visitors from such productions.

The size of existing Salt Lake City theaters — the Capitol Theatre and Kingsbury Hall — have hindered the city from attracting Broadway shows such as "The Lion King" and "Wicked" on their first tours, Becker said.

The touring-Broadway musical market in the U.S. dictates that a city the size of Salt Lake must have more than 2,000 seats to be considered for first-run shows, he said.

"(Today), touring Broadway shows generally reach Utah after appearing in 50 to 100 other cities," Becker said.

Salt Lake City is in an unofficial race with Sandy to bring a Broadway-style theater to the valley. Leaders from both cities have said the Salt Lake Valley can only support one such theater.

Becker said the existence of a competitive facility in Sandy "would have some impact," though he expects first-run Broadway productions would choose downtown Salt Lake City and its amenities as a tour stop over suburban Sandy.

"I guess some of that is speculation," he said, "but I can tell you where I'd go."