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Tom Dolan
The race to build a Broadway-class theater in either Salt Lake City or Sandy is starting to resemble a breakneck game of chicken.
    And neither cultural combatant is blinking.
    Sandy Mayor Tom Dolan argues his suburb has the lead, noting an already-financed developer plans to start building a 2,500-seat playhouse this summer just east of Interstate 15 near 10000 South.
    "There's only room for one Broadway-style theater," he says. "We've been working on this project for six to eight months, and Salt Lake has been discussing this project for 15 to 20 years. We're ready to move."
    Capital Mayor Ralph Becker shrugs off the south valley effort, pledging to push "aggressively" for a downtown stage.
    So who will play referee? Who will decide which project is built to protect taxpayers from two subsidy-laden projects?
    Quite possibly, you.
    "I would hope the public would be involved," says Erin Litvack, director of Salt Lake County's community services department, noting that South Jordan also may court a mega-theater.
    A county-commissioned study may help mold that public opinion. Due out by late summer, the $200,000 cultural-facilities master plan is designed to identify where a Broadway-style theater would best fit.
    Until then, Litvack and the officially neutral county are hoping neither Salt Lake City nor Sandy ventures too far toward building its own theater.
    "I'm just hoping that cooler heads prevail and that we'll wait for this study," she says.
    Ideally, Becker says, both sides would do just that. But since Sandy is going full throttle, the new Salt Lake City mayor is stepping on the gas as well. Last week, Becker tapped his brother, Bill, a theater production and management expert, to help pick a downtown location (possibly at a revamped Utah Theater), determine the price tag and find possible funding options by late spring.
    "I feel great about our effort," Ralph Becker says. "We're not going to respond to [Sandy]."
    About the stare-down with his southern competitor, the mayor says "the marketplace and the finance community will help work some of those things out."
    If past is any proof, the county ultimately may side with Salt Lake City. Several County Council members sit on downtown arts boards. And the county has a long history of funding downtown cultural facilities with hotel and restaurant taxes.
    Sandy, on the other hand, says it doesn't need any outside funding. But there is a precedent of the state helping Sandy pick up large tabs. House Speaker Greg Curtis hails from the suburb, which snagged a $35 million assist from the Legislature last year to help build its Major League Soccer stadium - and lure Real Salt Lake from downtown.
    Dolan says money won't be an issue for Sandy. The theater site, just southwest of City Hall, sits within an existing redevelopment area. Orem-based developer Scott McQuarrie plans to erect a $50 million Broadway roadhouse as an anchor to a $500 million office, residential and retail complex. New property taxes generated by the development could be funneled into the theater, which Sandy plans to buy through a lease-to-own pact.
    McQuarrie is hurrying to ready his plans for the entire project - tentatively dubbed the Proscenium - in time for an April 1 unveiling before the Sandy City Council. The prospect of a competing theater downtown doesn't seem to faze him.
    "It's probably good for theatergoers," he suggests. But he acknowledges "a negative impact for both theater owners."
    Arts groups have a vested interest in the Sandy-Salt Lake City fight, but perhaps a different viewpoint. Most agree clustering cultural facilities in the metro area makes sense. But proprietors are split over whether the capital - or any city in the valley - could support a Broadway-class theater when other venues struggle to draw crowds.
    They also worry that a single-minded focus on theater funding could siphon their cash-strapped coffers.
    Then there is the sideshow over content and censorship. Insiders suggest Sandy might scrub its theater productions, which could limit its playlist. A downtown venue would not attempt any such edits.
    NewSpace Entertainment, which presents Broadway Across America, is caught in the middle. As the production group likely to book Utah shows, it may play a pivotal part. NewSpace is careful not to alienate either suitor, but notes studies show dozens of medium-sized markets have the most success with theaters in downtown cores.
    Salt Lake Chamber President Lane Beattie, who is rallying businesses around a Salt Lake City stage, points to those studies when making the capital's case.
    ''We'll just have to compete with the one in Sandy - which obviously means [Sandy's] will not be successful."

Who's ahead in theater chase?

    * The suburb has the location, the developer, the cash and is "ready to go," says Mayor Tom Dolan.
    * The city released a study last month that showed a theater could succeed almost anywhere in the Salt Lake Valley, including Sandy.
    * The study suggests a large number of potential theatergoers live in the south end of Salt Lake County.
    Salt Lake City
    * Research has shown that a Broadway-style theater would benefit from the synergy created by the clustering of cultural amenities, hotels and restaurants found downtown.
    * The city has an option to buy the 1918-built Utah Theater, which could be renovated and expanded.
    * Bill Becker, a Tony-award-winning producer and expert in theater development, has been tapped by his brother, Mayor Ralph Becker, to lead the capital's efforts in landing a Broadway-class stage.