It wasn’t a standing ovation or a glowing review in The New Yorker, but the reaction of the Salt Lake City Council to a proposed $100 million Broadway-style theater was the next best thing: None of the purse-string-clutching members objected.
And for an encore Tuesday, Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon and his deputy said they would be receptive to managing the proposed playhouse.
“It’s what we do best is managing arts and cultural facilities downtown,” Deputy County Mayor Nichole Dunn said. “It would be a natural fit.”
A newly released city-commissioned report by Garfield Traub Swisher (GTS) strongly endorses a new theater at 135 S. Main St. The consultants also urge that the county manage it, saying that such expertise could result in an annual profit of $2.4 million after the first five years.
The City Council will be asked in June to pass a resolution formally endorsing the theater. Such a vote would also direct the Redevelopment Agency of Salt Lake City to pursue a funding strategy, which the GTS report envisions as a combination of sales-tax bonding, federal tax credits and cash from naming rights.
“As long as I’ve been on the council, this section of Main Street has always been a challenge,” said four-term Councilman Carlton Christensen. “I see this as a real changing element for downtown, and I’m pretty excited.”
If Broadway’s “Book of Mormon” ever tours, Councilman J.T. Martin quipped, “maybe we could get the first booking.”
Such a road show seems likely, given that the unexpected hit has been nominated for 14 Tony awards.
No council member voiced reservations about the theater’s price tag or whether the project could siphon dollars and devoted patrons from other arts venues.
For his part, Corroon said he has “some concerns” about how a Broadway-class theater might affect downtown’s Capitol Theatre. County estimates suggest the Capitol could lose as much as $600,000 a year if the new theater comes to town.
Is a new facility something that is nice to have? Yes,” Corroon said. “It would be great for Salt Lake to have a large, Broadway-style theater that allows shows to come here that otherwise wouldn’t come, or would wait for 10 years to come.
As for the county running the theater, Corroon said, “It makes absolute sense.”
The yearlong study, which cost $741,000, argues that Utah audiences only see the seventh to ninth run of touring Broadway shows because of the dearth of a first-rate facility. It notes a major playhouse was recommended by the Salt Lake Chamber as early as 1962 as part of the so-called Second Century Plan. And the report, which outlines the economic benefit theaters have brought similar-size markets, projects a Main Street theater would boost Salt Lake City’s coffers by $9.4 million a year.
What’s more, an adjacent 20- to 25-story office tower, proposed by Hamilton Partners’ Bruce Bingham, would increase the city’s annual take to $14.8 million, the report says.
But a question remains on whether the theater should be located midblock, at 135 S. Main St., or on the southeast corner of 100 South and Main Street. Bingham, city officials and the consultants would have to decide soon whether to design the project with the tower on the corner and the theater midblock or vice versa.
“The juxtaposition with City Creek [Center] is interesting,” Bingham told the council. “You want to be close, but not too close.”
Councilman Luke Garrott noted that a theater on the corner could maximize its exposure with multiple street fronts. Even so, the consultants stress that a midblock theater would also engage multiple sides, with a planned midblock walkway and an entrance fronting Regent Street immediately east of Main Street.
Helen Langan, senior adviser to Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, said either building arrangement could work, noting that the city will continue to work with the consultants and architects before making a decision.
“We want to create the most successful project for the city,” Langan said. “We’re going to do it right.”
Arts groups are mostly skeptical of — if not outright opposed to — the project. They argue Utah still gets most Broadway runs — if a little later — and insist a mega-playhouse would squeeze their audiences and bottom lines.
Others say the benefits, particularly as the city sees a downtown renaissance, far outweigh the risks.
“It is important that Salt Lake City remain the cultural core of the region. … No matter how or when the theater comes into existence,” said Salt Lake County Councilman Arlyn Bradshaw. “I am definitely a supporter of it.”
It it wins approval, the theater would take three years to design and build. The office tower, though it may not be built simultaneously, would also take three years.
Tribune reporter Jeremiah Stettler contributed to this story.