Now that the development of a major performing arts theater in downtown Salt Lake City is all but a done deal, there is one word appropriate to mark the occasion: Bravo!
Years in the planning, the concept of a Broadway-style theater to serve a regional audience has not been universally applauded. But as plans have proceeded toward the final act, it is comforting to look back on the process and recognize that diligence in planning detail by detail will go as far as possible to ensure the Utah Performing Arts Center, as it is now known, will be a hit.
There are naysayers who decry the level of investment in such a project at a time when public coffers are already under pressure. And there is worry the new facility will cannibalize existing arts audiences and harm long-established dance and theatrical troupes.
But there is also the "build it and they will come" argument that more supply breeds more demand and without such a facility, our chances of remaining a recognized hub for quality performing arts are slim to none. Great cities have the courage to take risks and undertake great projects. The arts center has the potential to draw a new wave of excitement to a downtown undergoing a renaissance and elevate Salt Lake City's stature among those places where the arts are encouraged and allowed to flourish.
There are commercial benefits as well. Much of the argument in favor of the center revolves around its ability to draw business to adjacent concerns, a claim that will have to be proven when it is finally built. But it should be noted that restaurants and retailers near existing sports and entertainment centers already notice a positive economic impact. Another high-profile cultural facility will theoretically magnify that effect.
The successful production of a theatrical event requires much planning and rehearsal. The successful completion of a public project of the magnitude of the arts center likewise requires painstaking attention to detail and a sober and honest assessment of costs and benefits.
Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, who has been a driving force behind the project, says it has been the most grueling undertaking of his mayoral tenure. But his successful marshaling of a coalition of divergent interests in support of the project is deserving of sincere ovation.
City and county leaders have worked to make sure their deployment of tax dollars is reasonable and appropriate. Such projects always carry some level of risk. In this case, there is also the potential for significant reward.
Building a center to house artistic performances is not like the construction of a new fire station or a water treatment facility. For every city, a functioning infrastructure is obligatory. To elevate a community's cultural prominence is to play on a grander stage.