|First stage of theater plan calls for variety|
|By Lori Buttars
The Salt Lake Tribune
|A big Broadway-style palace is not the best use for
the Utah Theatre, unless someone wants to cover the estimated $63 million
price tag to reconstruct the old movie house on Salt Lake City's Main
Instead, consultants recommend a midsize, 900- to 1,400-seat theater be located at 148 S. Main and a "Lion King"-size venue - with about 2,500 seats at half the cost - be built somewhere else downtown to help complete the capital's cultural district.
"Salt Lake City has all the things you need [in a cultural district] and could probably use a few more," said Daniel P. Coffey, a Chicago-based urban planner who conducted the six-month-long study.
The consultants were in Utah on Thursday to make a preliminary presentation of their findings in a round of meetings with officials from Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County, the Downtown Alliance and the Salt Lake Chamber who commissioned the $40,000 feasibility study. The group expects to receive a more detailed report within a few weeks.
The consultants assessed the size and capacity of the Salt Lake City market and interviewed dozens of existing arts groups to determine their needs.
In addition to the large and midsize theaters, the study suggested Utah officials might consider removing some seats at the existing Capitol Theatre for improved sight lines, more leg room and better ventilation. Downsizing that venue to 1,500 seats and building a new midsize facility - possibly at the Utah Theatre - would provide a "full-house effect" and enhance the experience for presenters as well as for patrons, Coffey said.
"The Utah Symphony, for instance, could use a space for its chamber series and play to a full house rather than a half-empty hall," he added. Community groups such as the Grand Theatre, currently using an old high school auditorium, could also "benefit and grow."
County officials, who oversee many of the existing downtown facilities used by the Utah Symphony and Opera, Ballet West and other arts groups, say it is important to preserve as well as build on the arts community's successes.
County Arts Director Phil Jordan lauded the study for identifying a need for a cultural district but stressed the importance of public feedback before any renovation begins.
He agrees making over Utah Theatre for Broadway shows is problematic - 2,500 seats would create a bulky balcony, bad acoustics with a raised ceiling and no space for a lobby.
"Having another 1,400-seat theater around the corner [from Capitol Theatre] may not make a lot of sense," he added.
Still, Jordan is convinced a Broadway theater would draw people from across Utah and beyond and called it the No. 1 priority.
"There is certainly an appetite for Broadway shows in Utah," County Mayor Peter Corroon said. "But anything that's done has to be done in conjunction with the other arts organizations."
Some arts groups declined to comment on the study until the final report is done. Others were not surprised at the results.
"It was a lot to absorb," said Chris Lino, executive director of Pioneer Theatre Company, which could stage more intimate plays at the proposed 900-seat theater and continue its larger productions at its historic University of Utah home. "The needs I heard identified in the study were consistent with what the cultural community has been saying all along."
The renovations and additions would come with a hefty - albeit unspecified - price tag.
"It's a big bill to fill," conceded Steve Boulay, executive vice president of Clear Channel Theatricals, which brings Broadway-style touring shows to the Capitol Theatre. "Prioritizing it will have to come later, with a lot of input from the public and the landowners."
Representatives of Howa Construction, which owns the Utah Theatre, say the study shows there is a role for the longtime Main Street facility in any scenario.
"We're not concerned with how many seats [end up at the Utah Theatre]," said Dru Damico, director of development for Howa. "We are not convinced the Utah Theatre couldn't be the larger theater."
Either way, Damico said, Howa is happy the Utah Theatre is being seen as the "epicenter" for this arts district.
Tribune reporters Derek Jensen and Heather May contributed to this report.
* Build a flexible "black box" theater to include three smaller, 75- to 125-seat halls.
* Create spaces for classrooms, rehearsals and dance studios.
* Find a 250- to 450-seat banquet facility.