Ballet West mulls 2 building options

It prefers downtown property over land in Sugar House

Published: Thursday, Aug. 10 2006 12:00 a.m. MDT

When Ballet West asks the Salt Lake City Redevelopment Agency for an extension of a lease on land in Sugar House tonight, it will be the sixth such request in two years.

The string of extensions continues because the dance company is waiting for Salt Lake County money to come through for downtown land where it could build extra studios and renovate office space. Ballet West prefers downtown to the Sugar House land on Wilmington Avenue (at about 2200 South and 1250 East), although the east-side site would have space for offices, studios, costume storage, a warehouse and parking in one place.

County officials recently made an offer to purchase the land adjacent to the Capitol Theatre to house a home and academy for Ballet West, but they are still negotiating with the landowner, Woodbury Corp., said Doug Willmore, the county's chief administrative officer. A representative from Woodbury Corp. did not return a phone call seeking comment Wednesday.

The ballet company is looking for more space because it has filled the old studios and offices in Capitol Theatre.

"While we have loved our time in Capitol Theatre, we have reached absolute capacity," said Jessica Dalton, a Ballet West spokeswoman. "If you could see my desk, you'd understand."

Ballet West first approached the city's RDA six years ago about the 2.1 acres in Sugar House, and the ballet company had been raising money and lining up plans for 120,000 square feet on the site. The company raised $12 million in a capital campaign and needs about $8 million more. Donors who committed to the Sugar House site were happy to switch money over to a general campaign that may eventually include the downtown site, Dalton said.

The Capitol Theatre site would not have as much space as Sugar House, but Ballet West would not have to move and could contribute to an eventual arts and cultural district downtown, Dalton said.

Meanwhile, the county is trying to acquire the land west of the downtown theater to also help with the planned renovation of the 93-year-old venue.

Some County Council members see the space west of the theater as the first step toward a downtown arts and cultural district, an idea that has gained some traction lately with county and Salt Lake City officials. The Downtown Alliance, the county, and the RDA split costs earlier this year for a study in which consultants said that downtown could support more arts venues with more frequent performances.

With the new programs and students that Ballet West would accommodate with more space, a neighbor like the ballet company would only help Capitol Theatre, Willmore said. Friends and family will buy more tickets to performances, driving up revenue, he said.

Helping Ballet West is just a step toward achieving the county's goal of revitalizing and expanding the Capitol Theatre. The county plans to improve theater seating and sight lines and to expand the lobby and restrooms. The theater also needs some work to make it more accessible for disabled patrons, Willmore said.

"Having the ballet school and rehearsal halls and everything next to the Capitol Theatre will just improve Capitol Theatre and will benefit other arts downtown and everyone else," County Councilman Joe Hatch said. "We think it is better to centrally locate all the arts groups and the performances and their facilities in one area, to get the synergy of the arts."

Salt Lake City will likely renew the Sugar House lease at its meeting tonight, said Carlton Christensen, chairman of the RDA board, which doubles as the City Council. But if Ballet West stays downtown, the city will look to other development opportunities on what has become a very valuable piece of land.

"There are a couple of possibilities — one could be a mixed-use commercial residential," Christensen said. "I'm sure it would lean heavily on the residential side."

Whatever happens to the Sugar House land, the RDA would have to issue a request for proposals, a formal call for development ideas. Anything that happened on the land would go through public meetings.


E-mail: kswinyard@desnews.com; ldethman@desnews.com

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