The Salt Lake Tribune

Date: March 6, 2006
Section: Opinion

If you build it...
CULTURE DISTRICT: Plan to build theaters is unrealistic

Move over, Harold Hill. The consultants who recommend that Salt Lake County build a glorious new theater for touring Broadway musicals, restore the Utah Theater as a mid-size space and build three black box theaters in downtown Salt Lake City have an edifice complex. That starts with "e" and it rhymes with "c" and it stands for tax dollars down a rat hole.

There's no way the local performing arts market could support such a building boom.

Nowhere in their proposal for this grandiose scheme do the boys from Chicago mention that virtually all of Utah's flagship professional performing troupes are struggling to stay afloat because their aging audiences are dying off. Younger people apparently would rather spend their leisure time and money elsewhere. That leaves us wondering who would buy the tickets that these new theaters would be hawking.

The report from HVS Consulting is chockablock with eye-popping projections. Our favorite is that the local appetite for musicals is so underfed that 252,000 people would snap up tickets to touring Broadway shows at the new 2,500-seat theater. That would mean selling more than 2,000 tickets per house for 120 performances a year.

Are these guys serious?

You can count on one hand, maybe two, the number of blockbuster shows Broadway has created in the last two decades. You can only see "Les Mis" or "Phantom" so many times.

Besides, the bus-and-truck companies that outfits like Clear Channel are putting on the road these days are sometimes schlock. They're often not the caliber of the professional productions that Pioneer Theatre Company puts on the boards.

To give them their due, the consultants are right about many things. The shortcomings of the Capitol Theatre are well known. It's impossible to load the most elaborate touring shows into the house. Both it and the University of Utah's Kingsbury Hall (where there is no parking) are too small to sell enough seats to make the biggest touring shows profitable.

No doubt about it, a big new downtown theater would solve those problems. But neither the demand nor the product are there. Besides, taxpayers should not build a new theater for Clear Channel - a profit-making venture - that would cannibalize the audiences of local, taxpayer-supported companies.

Band instruments, anyone?

(c) 2006 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of Media NewsGroup, Inc. by NewsBank, Inc.