New office high-rise proposed for Salt Lake City

By derek p. jensen

The Salt Lake Tribune

Published: November 17, 2010 11:43AM
Updated: November 17, 2010 10:56AM
Hamilton Partners plans to build a 25-floor high rise at 100 South and Main Street that would connect to a planned Broadway-style play house on Main Street.

Salt Lake City’s planned Broadway theater is literally getting down to business.

Developers of the proposed $88 million to $98 million playhouse unmasked plans Tuesday for a nearby office high-rise at the existing Bennion Jewelers spot on the corner of 100 South and Main Street.

The 20- to 25-story tower would connect with the theater via a galleria and shared Main Street entrance.

It would be built by Hamilton Partners’ Bruce Bingham, who recently completed the “222” skyscraper a block farther south, and likely would include retail and an eatery on the first floor, across the street from City Creek Center’s envisioned “restaurant row.”

“At first glance, I don’t understand the synergy,” City Councilman Luke Garrott said. “I don’t understand how they [the tower and theater] go together.”

Bingham and principals from developer Swisher, Garfield, Traub said the idea would be to blend the two and that linking them provides construction flexibility.

The property for both is owned by real-estate arms of the LDS Church, which still are in negotiations for the land purchases.

Mayor Ralph Becker told the council the design would allow the buildings to share glass-encased lobby space to enliven Main. He also said the air rights above the theater could be sold — perhaps for a wing of the office tower — that would generate economic returns to the city.

No costestimateson the office tower were revealed. Asked whether he expects a city subsidy, Bingham said details still are being worked out but noted that Hamilton wouldpay for the space.

City Redevelopment Agency Executive Director D.J. Baxter said the collaboration was born during property negotiations with the LDS Church, whose officials told the city that having a private developer buy the “very valuable” corner piece would boost both.

“It’s become very clear that the two projects, if well designed and coordinated,” Baxter said, “could really benefit one another.”

Indeed, having some mixed-use — not simply a stand-alone theater — was the recommendation from multiple downtown arts studies, insisted Lisa Harrison Smith, Becker’s spokeswoman.

“They competitively bid for the opportunity to have that project,” Smith said about Hamilton.

Although the developers’official theater plan is not expected for two weeks, key details were unveiled Tuesday. Designers, including famed architect Moshe Safdie (renowned for the city’s showcase downtown library) and Salt Lake City firm VCBO Architecture are calling for a 148,000-square-foot, 2,500-seat space at 135 S. Main.

Parking for 615 cars would be available at the nearby Regent Street garage, while a mid-block path would connect Regent and Main, just south of the former Tribune tower, and continue across Main to theUtah Theater (penciled in as the home of a possible film center).

Three levels of glass-enclosed lobbies would face Main, while the theater could offer a rooftop garden for special events and fundraisers.

An annex south of the theater could include a banquet room and black-box rehearsal space. The main playhouse would offer two balcony galleries, an orchestra pit, green room and support space large enough to accommodate the Utah Symphony and Opera along with Ballet West. Builders expect those arts groups also would use the theater for major performances.

“It is a multipurpose theater,” said developer and architect Steve Swisher. “It does function as both an acoustic and an amplified facility.”

A 10-week Broadway schedule with 80 performances is planned, although the number would jump to 104 shows every other year with a “blockbuster” play. Organizers also anticipate 20 other commercial shows, 20 nonprofit stagings and a handful by the symphony, opera and ballet to reach up to 175 total performances a year. Projections for patrons range from 258,000 to 276,000 a year.

Councilman Carlton Christensen called it exciting that the long-discussed elements seem to be coming together. “It’s potentially reachable.”

But cost could spell curtains, especially considering the slumping economy. Developers peg the total theater price — excluding the office tower — at $88 million to $98 million. The bulk could be funded through a sales-tax or lease-revenue bond, while 20 percent could come from federal tax credits and 10 percent through naming rights.

If the theater is run as a nonprofit, consultants predict it would break even after five years. If it is run by the Salt Lake County Center for the Arts, in conjunction with the city, projections suggest revenue would top expenses by $2.5 million within five years. The development team says that money could help supplant programming lost byCapitol Theatre and elsewhere due to the Broadway-class venue.

Bingham said it would be two to three years before the slumping economy justifies the construction of a new office tower downtown. The construction timeline for the theater — once and if it is approved — also is three years.

Playhouse by the numbers

80 to 104 Broadway-style performances a year.

40 other commercial and nonprofit shows a year.

Up to 175 total annual performances.

Up to 276,000 patrons a year.

$88 million to $98 million price tag.

© 2010 The Salt Lake Tribune