Salt Lake City theater-site talks are under way

By Jared Page
Deseret News
Published: August 15, 2008
Mayor Ralph Becker expects to announce by mid-October the site for construction of a Broadway-style theater in downtown Salt Lake City.

Negotiations are under way with owners of the handful of properties identified as potential sites for a 2,400-seat theater capable of hosting first-run touring Broadway shows, Becker said.

Four sites seen as prime locations for the theater were presented to the mayor last month by his brother, Bill Becker, a Tony Award-winning producer, an experienced theater developer, owner and manager, and chairman of the Downtown Theater Action Group.

"We've taken those recommendations, and we're meeting with property owners," Mayor Becker said Thursday at the Downtown Merchants Association's annual luncheon. "Our objective is to have a site for a theater in another two months."

The city's top options, according the committee, are renovation of the historic Utah Theater at 148 S. Main, 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.

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

After a site is selected, the city will begin putting together financing for the project, Becker said, a process that could take nine to 10 months — depending on involvement of the state and Salt Lake County.

Though the city is keeping its options open, Bill Becker told the Salt Lake City Council during a work session Tuesday that the NAC site would be his top choice.

"I do love that site, but we couldn't pick just one," he said. "They all have advantages and disadvantages."

One advantage of the NAC site, Bill Becker said, is its ability to have entrances on both Main and Regent streets.

The Utah Theater site, meanwhile, is attractive for its Main Street frontage, but not for historic preservation reasons, he said.

"The interior of that theater has been stripped," Bill Becker said. "Except for the lobby, there are none of the original decorative elements in that theater. There's nothing to preserve."

The "extraordinary" entrance is the only part of the theater that could be restored, he said.

Salt Lake City is in an unofficial race with Sandy to bring a Broadway-style theater to the valley. Private developers are working with the suburban city to build a 2,400-seat theater to anchor the $500 million Proscenium, a 12-acre mixed-use development at approximately 10000 South.

Leaders from both cities have said the Salt Lake Valley can only support one such theater.

Jill Remington Love, Salt Lake City Council chairwoman, referenced Sandy's plans when asking Bill Becker whether there's a need for a Broadway-style theater downtown.

"I keep wanting someone to tell me a need for it other than not wanting our arts to drift to Sandy," Love said.

That answer and others likely will be found in Salt Lake County's cultural facilities master plan, scheduled to be released in September.

"I'm confident that it will show that downtown is the best place for the theater," said Vasilios Priskos of the Downtown Merchants Association.