Zephyr Club eyed in possible Broadway-style theater deal

By Jared Page
Deseret News
Published: August 5, 2008
The hallowed small-concert venue where James McMurtry recorded portions of a live album in 2003 and Morrissey a year earlier crooned about the "First of the Gang to Die" could play a role in bringing the likes of "In the Heights" and "Cry-Baby" to Salt Lake City.

The Zephyr Club, shuttered since November 2003, again is being talked about as a downtown hot spot — this time as part of a real-estate deal that would allow a Broadway-style theater to replace the parking lot behind the Peery Hotel, 110 W. 300 South.

Landowner David Bernolfo is willing to part with the nearly 1.4-acre Peery Hotel parking lot, as long as Salt Lake City approves the Zephyr property on the corner of 300 South and West Temple for use as a surface parking lot, according to Bill Becker, chairman of the Downtown Theater Action Group.

Also as part of the deal, Bernolfo would acquire 2 acres on the southwest corner of 300 South and West Temple, currently a parking area for the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, Becker said.

The developer wants to build a 600-car structured parking garage at the latter site, with the understanding that if he doesn't do so in six years, the city could buy the property and additional land to the south for construction of a 900-space parking garage for the proposed theater, Becker said.

Bernolfo has wanted to put a surface parking lot at the Zephyr site for more than five years. He petitioned the Salt Lake City Planning Commission to that end in October 2003 but was denied.

Commissioners determined that "the vitality of downtown could be negatively impacted" by a surface parking lot at the site, and that it was "not in harmony with the purpose and intent of the (city's) master plan," according to minutes from the meeting.

Now, Bernolfo is pitching the idea again, and this time he's using a desirable site for a downtown theater as a bargaining chip.

The Peery Hotel parking lot is one of four leading locations identified by the action group as feasible sites for a grand theater capable of hosting touring Broadway shows.

Becker, a Tony Award-winning producer, experienced theater developer and brother of Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, said the site is "wonderfully located" because of its proximity to the Salt Palace Convention Center and a light-rail stop.

The new theater also could be developed in a way that administrative, rehearsal and other performance space could be integrated with the Rose Wagner, he said.

Having an entrance on 300 South — known downtown as Broadway — also has its benefits, said Salt Lake City Councilman Carlton Christensen.

"Broadway obviously has a theatrical theme to it," Christensen said, "and the Rose Wagner has really proven the location."

The Rose Wagner parking lot reportedly is valued at about $50 per square foot, putting its cost at roughly $4.5 million. Becker said Bernolfo estimates a greater value per square foot for the Peery Hotel lot.

The Rose Wagner parking lot also is being considered as a possible home for a downtown theater.

If the deal for the Peery Hotel parking lot property doesn't pan out, Christensen said he believes the Zephyr property could be developed "for some element of entertainment" — perhaps as a small-concert venue "where evolving bands have an opportunity to play."

"There is clearly reason to look at that," he said, possibly as a project through the city's Redevelopment Agency.

Other leading locations for a downtown theater are the former Utah Theater at 148 S. Main; and the former Newspaper Agency Corp. press site and surrounding parcels, with entrances on Main and Regent streets.

Several attempts to reach Bernolfo for comment were unsuccessful.

E-mail: jpage@desnews.com