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Jeffrey D. Allred

Salt Lake City literally rolled out the red carpet Thursday to announce plans for the Utah Performance Center on Main Street.

The former Newspaper Agency Corp. building at 135 S. Main went through a dress rehearsal for its future role as a downtown performing arts center, complete with a curtained entryway, musical performers and posters of popular Broadway shows.

State and city government leaders joined members of the arts, business and religious communities to celebrate plans for a 2,400-seat theater capable of hosting first-run touring Broadway productions.

"This is a momentous day for us in Salt Lake City," Mayor Ralph Becker said, officially announcing the former NAC site as the theater's future home. "The Utah Performance Center on Main will be an asset that is unparalleled in our region."

The site is about a half-block away from the original Salt Lake Theater, a 1,500-seat venue built by early settlers of the Salt Lake Valley at 100 S. State, Becker said.

Ground was broken for the construction of the site in 1861. Early LDS Church leader Brigham Young "personally announced the construction of the theater and vigorously pursued its completion," he said.

The theater held its final performance on Oct. 20, 1928.

"Our traditions inspire and often guide us, but our future and all that's possible for us to achieve propels us forward," Becker said. "So 80 years later this week, we are returning to reaffirm our commitment to the vision laid out by Brigham Young for our great city."

H. David Burton, presiding bishop of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also spoke about the performing arts tradition of the church, calling the arts "an integral part of our community."

Bishop Burton applauded the downtown theater project, saying it will work together with the LDS Church's $1.5 billion City Creek Center mixed-use development on the north side of 100 South to bolster the vibrancy of downtown.

An expected boost to economic development is one of two ways Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. said he believes a downtown performing arts center will significantly improve quality of life for Utahns.

"The second part is we have some great young people in this state who are wonderful performers," he said. "To think they're going to have a world-class outpost that will allow them to elevate their capabilities is an awesome thought."

The Utah Performance Center on Main is the working title for the estimated $81.5 million project, which is expected to also include rehearsal space and black-box theaters. Complementary retail and even residential space also could become part of the project, city officials said.

The Salt Lake City Redevelopment Agency has signed an agreement with Property Reserve Inc., a development arm of the LDS Church, to exclusively negotiate purchase of the property.

Those negotiations will determine exactly where the theater will be and how much property will be needed. As currently envisioned, a grand entrance from Main Street would be constructed in place of the NAC office building, also known as the former Mr. Mac building, with the main theater fronting Regent Street between 100 South and 200 South.

However, the RDA owns the two buildings immediately to the north of the NAC offices (125-127 S. Main), and PRI owns the remainder of the property northward to 100 South. Salt Lake City's exclusive negotiations agreement also includes that property, meaning more of the performance center than its grand entry could be on Main Street.

"We're looking at what the floor plan needs to be and how to orient it," said DJ Baxter, executive director of the city's RDA. "We want to be as frugal as possible. We want to get all the space we need to do it right but not any more than that."

No matter the configuration, existing buildings will be torn down to make way for the performance center. It's unlikely that the project will include renovation of existing structures, city officials said.

Becker said the city will finalize its financing plan for the project "in the coming months, working with our partners at all levels of government to arrive at a funding approach."

The city's preliminary financing plan calls for the creation of a community development area in the downtown area, which would allow the city to return tax money to the project. It also will likely qualify for assistance from the federal New Market Tax Credit program because it's located in a qualified low-income community as calculated by the area's poverty rate and median income.

It's possible that a general-obligation bond will be taken to voters to help with the cost, Becker said.

The city also will look to the state and county to help with the financing.

"We're looking at all funding options right now," said JT Martin, Salt Lake City Ccouncilman and vice chairman of the RDA. "Nothing is off the table. Perhaps (Sandy Mayor Tom) Dolan will be interested."

Salt Lake City is in an unofficial race with Sandy to bring a Broadway-style theater to the valley. Private developers are working with the suburban city to build a 2,400-seat theater to anchor the $500 million Proscenium, a 12-acre mixed-use development at approximately 10000 South.

Leaders from both cities have said the Salt Lake Valley can only support one such theater.


E-mail: jpage@desnews.com