In the race between Salt Lake City and Sandy to be the first in the valley to build a theater of 2,500 seats for touring musicals, a number of important facts and questions seem to have been ignored.
    The proponents of a new theater claim that a larger venue is necessary if Salt Lake City is to host the big touring musicals. This is factually inaccurate. There are already two venues currently available in which to book such shows - the Capitol Theatre and Kingsbury Hall - and virtually every major touring musical that has been available during the past two decades has already been presented in one of those venues.
    For example: "The Phantom of the Opera," "Les Miserables," "Hairspray" and "Mama Mia" have all played Salt Lake City, and next season "Wicked" will play for five weeks at the Capitol Theatre.
    In short, there isn't a single major national tour that hasn't played or will not in years to come because of venue size. The major determinant in tour booking is not venue, but market size.
    Salt Lake City is the 36th largest market in the country according to the 2000 census. National touring musicals will always play the largest markets first, because those are the most profitable markets for the producers of those shows.
    For example, the national tour of "Phantom of The Opera" played in the Curran Theatre (1,667 seats) in San Francisco for four years before it came to Salt Lake City's Capitol Theatre (1,940 seats) for the simple reason that San Francisco is the fifth-largest market in the country.
    When larger markets have been exhausted, shows like "The Lion King" will play in Salt Lake City just as has every other major tour.
    Proponents of a new 2,500-seat venue are fond of calling it a Broadway-style theater. However, one of the most important aspects of experiencing live theater is the sense of intimacy between audience and performers. The largest theater on Broadway, the Hilton Theatre, has 1,813 seats; many of the theaters on Broadway are less than half that size.
    According to The League of American Theatres and Producers, Inc., the average size of the 39 Broadway theaters is 1,234 seats. A 2,500-seat theater is more than twice as large as the average Broadway theater, meaning that more than half the seats will be farther away from the stage than the worst seats in a Broadway theater.
    Proponents of the new theater claim that it will be an economic engine, driving increased direct and indirect revenue benefits for the community. The studies predicting those benefits fail to take into account that the events booked into the new venue will, to a great extent, simply be siphoned off from the two existing venues.
    For a new 2,500-seat venue to be fully utilized, other venues already built must be compromised. A new 2,500-seat venue in Sandy won't generate new restaurant and hotel business for the county; it will simply siphon off business that is currently occurring in downtown Salt Lake City.
    Given the above, the most important questions the residents of the Salt Lake Valley should ask themselves are: 1) Does it make sense to invest $75 million to $100 million to construct a new 2,500-seat theater when there is no significant benefit to the citizens of the valley in doing so? 2) Does it make sense to use public funding to create a new facility for the primary benefit of a private, commercial business entity? 3) Is there any benefit for our local arts organizations to have a building of this size?
   
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    * ANNE CULLIMORE DECKE is the former chair of Utah Arts Council, long-time civic leader and arts advocate.