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New home for Ballet West announced for downtown Salt Lake City

Published: Monday, Oct. 25 2010 7:02 p.m. MDT

Florence G. Christensen, wife of Ballet West's founder, attends the announcement.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Ballet West dancers have a new reason to lengthen their leaps.

Their long-awaited center for dance is about to become a reality. Representatives from the company, dignitaries and elected officials gathered Monday for the unveiling of the design and to announce a public-private partnership to build a new home for Ballet West next to a renovated Capitol Theatre.

The new $32 million facility will be part of the downtown revitalization project. In the works for more than seven years, the original plan was to build in Sugarhouse. But with pleas from both the Chamber of Commerce and city fathers, Shari Quinney, Ballet West Capitol Campaign chairwoman, said managers and the board heard the cry, "Don't leave downtown Salt Lake — we need you."

The Salt Lake County Center for the Arts and the dance company have joined forces to create the building that will now house the dance academy, rehearsal studios and space for costumes, which are all in other locations now. The best news, Quinney said, is for the performers and students. "Our dancers don't have to leave now; they don't have to drive anywhere. They come here, and they're here for the day."

"It's not cost effective to be scattered all over the city; it's not practical," said Ballet West's artistic director, Adam Sklute.

The current academy has topped out at more than 200 students. Sklute said the new center gives the academy the potential to more than double its student body and "growing Ballet West Academy to the largest ballet training facility in the intermountain region."

County and city leaders talked about the downtown property and the economic value of its future development.

"The heart and soul of a city is often defined by a thriving arts and entertainment community," said Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker. "This theatre is such a gem, not only for downtown Salt Lake, but for the whole region."

City Councilman Carlton Christensen said he realizes that the desire to renovate the old Utah Theatre, plus the Capitol Theatre are huge financial endeavors, but he believes there is a need for the different facilities. "We may need to, at some point, look at an additional funding source to make work out," he said. "But I don't think that anybody has any intent to rob from one project to make another happen."

The ballet has raised $12 million and will need to raise another $6 million toward the cost of the project. The county will contribute the remaining $14 million, partly through tax incentives.

The new facility, the Jessie Eccles Quinney Center for Dance, is named for a woman who loved Ballet West. Her grandson, David Quinney, S.J. & Jessie E. Quinney Foundation board member, remembers his annual date with her to "The Nutcracker" and his grandparents' support of all the arts. "She and Joe both realized that they were essential to our culture and our society and to a vibrant and progressive city," David Quinney said.

Willam Christensen, who choreographed and produced the first "Nutcracker" in America, founded Ballet West. His widow, Florence Christensen, said he would be pleased about the announcement. "He's up in heaven, saying this is a wonderful day we've been working for and hoping for, and finally, we're seeing some realization."

Those involved in the project are hoping for a late 2013 completion date, the year of Ballet West's 50th anniversary and the 100th anniversary of the Capitol Theatre.

Construction of the center will begin sometime in the spring of 2012.

e-mail: cmikita@desnews.com

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