Date: April 22, 2004

At Utah Theatre, show may go on after all
Public funding: Salt Lake City's Redevelopment Agency is looking at financial avenues for reviving downtown venue

Heather May The Salt Lake Tribune  

Rick Howa may get his mothballed Utah Theatre publicly financed after all. After Salt Lake County Mayor Nancy Workman came out against the project -- possibly dashing hopes of the county asking voters in November to approve a $40 million to $50 million bond -- Salt Lake City officials are looking for money.

Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson asked the city's Redevelopment Agency to investigate financing possibilities to turn the Main Street theater into a performing arts venue. Howa has owned the vacant building for years and is pushing for a government agency to help rebuild and buy it.

This week, City Council members are touring the theater and some are open to paying a portion of the renovation costs.

"If we're looking at the [downtown] malls being out of commission for five years [while under construction], we're going to need something downtown," said Councilwoman Nancy Saxton, who walked through the theater Tuesday. "I'm interested. I'm intrigued with the whole idea."

RDA Director Dave Oka is studying how other cities have financed theater renovations. The RDA could set aside a couple of million dollars a year to pay for a construction bond or it could offer loans or grants, he said. The RDA has been paying $1.4 million a year to buy property on State Street and the last purchase will take place in fiscal year 2004-05. That money could shift to the theater.

Oka said Howa will need other sources of revenue, possibly private investors and federal tax credits used for historic-renovation projects.

"I'm trying to assemble everything they can [do]," Oka said. "We can't do the whole thing. Everyone knows that."

Howa said Wednesday he thinks a public-private partnership sounds too "complicated."

"The money shouldn't be a big problem [for government officials]," he said, noting he is talking to private investors. "It's never what something costs. It's the return you get on your investment. That's a better way to look at it."

It is unlikely the RDA would find money in next year's budget. The RDA board, which is the City Council, will discuss the 2004-05 budget today. The theater is not on the agenda.

Still, "It's an idea we really ought to pursue," said Councilman Dave Buhler, who remembers seeing "The Sound of Music" at the theater when he was 7. "It's definitely going to be on my mind as we go through the budget. There may be a pot of money."

City officials continue to prefer that the county own the new theater, as it owns and operates downtown's Capitol Theatre. Media giant Clear Channel Entertainment has proposed operating both theaters. It now brings in Broadway-style shows to existing venues.

Workman opposed a theater bond partly over fears that a new venue mainly aimed for Clear Channel shows could harm the Utah Opera and Ballet West, which perform at Capitol Theatre.

Saxton said Clear Channel has agreed not to schedule shows the same nights as operas or ballets. David Anderson, president of Clear Channel Entertainment's Theatre Management, didn't return phone calls Wednesday.

In a recent interview, Anderson said he is determined to see the theater renovated. "I want to see it happen, absolutely, as soon as possible, but with protections in place for all the arts organizations."

(c) 2004 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of Media NewsGroup, Inc. by NewsBank, Inc.