Where should the new Broadway-style theater in Salt Lake County be built? That was the implicit question posed in Erica Hansen's front-page article in last Sunday's paper. According to her, the answer is clear: "Those asked by the Deseret Morning News, except for Sandy's Mayor Tom Dolan and the project developer, almost universally agreed — downtown is the place."

I respectfully note that she certainly didn't ask me. Nor did she ask any of the members of the growing South Valley Arts Alliance, a community group consisting of residents from all over Salt Lake County who fervently support the Sandy city theater project.

In any case, I believe that the Deseret Morning News is, in fact, asking the wrong question. Unfortunately, it's the question that has driven most of the media coverage about this project, and both of Salt Lake's major papers have had no shortage of harsh words for both Sandy city and her mayor. The driving narrative has been that Sandy is essentially stealing something that rightfully belongs to Salt Lake City.

But this isn't a city project. This theater is being built with private funds.

Contrast this with the Sandy soccer stadium, which required a significant outlay of taxpayer money from both the county and the state. In that instance, elected officials from both bodies had a legitimate voice in how public resources should be used.

But this time around, county and state officials aren't being asked for a dime. So it's presumptuous of either the county or the state — or the Deseret Morning News, for that matter — to suggest that Sandy city needs their permission to move forward.

It's worth noting that nobody is making any attempt to prevent Salt Lake City from building any theater of any kind, either downtown or anywhere else. Sandy is not standing in the way. The stark reality is that the resources to make a downtown theater happen just aren't there.

Studies have been conducted, and all of them have concluded that a theater downtown would be wildly expensive — and that taxpayers would be forced to foot the bill.

Once again the Utah Theater is being considered as a possible location, but that would require tens of millions of taxpayer dollars just to bring that building up to code, without additional enhancements. Throw in parking considerations and other logistical challenges, and Salt Lake City is back at square one, regardless of what Sandy city does or does not do.

But why focus on the negative? With this theater in Sandy, Salt Lake County is being presented with an extraordinary gift — a valuable public resource that will not be built at public expense. Considering the explosive growth we've seen in the south end of the valley over the past decade, it's not surprising that a developer would find Sandy city a more appealing location than downtown.

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Reviewing the project objectively, it's clear that all county residents will benefit from this magnificent addition to the community. This theater, and the surrounding development, will have countywide, statewide and even regional appeal.

So it's a bit silly to continue to ask where this theater ought to be. That train has already left the station. The real question is whether Salt Lake City or County should be able to kill a private development when they can offer no viable alternative.

Why should they be able to do that? And, given the tremendous opportunity to enrich the lives of all county residents, why would they want to?


Jim Bennett is the president of the South Valley Arts Alliance.