City, county move toward cooperative management of downtown theater

Published: Tuesday, March 5 2013 9:30 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — A chorus of positive voices sang support for an agreement between Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County's Center for the Arts to operate the downtown theater set to open this year.

Local celebrity Kurt Bestor, who drew chuckles from the crowd when he introduced himself as a Utah resident and musician "trying to break into the business," was among the seven people who praised the upcoming Utah Performing Arts Center and the cooperation agreement during a public hearing Tuesday night.

Bestor called the Center for the Arts experienced and capable in solving the "arts Rubik's Cube" of managing and scheduling the county's various venues. 

"My 25 years of experience working with the arts organization from the county standpoint … has been nothing but very, very good," Bestor said. "They have done an amazing and what I consider unbiased job, and so I really can't consider anyone else to do such a Herculean task."

Gunter Radinger, a downtown business owner and arts enthusiast, said the cooperation agreement will keep consistent oversight between the new and existing arts venues. A longtime supporter of the Utah Symphony, Utah Opera and the Pioneer Theatre Company, Radinger's primary concern is that none of the older groups and venues suffer once the new theater opens.  

"I think it's going to bring an amount of people downtown that is normally unseen," he said. "As long as (the county's Center for the Arts) is running this, this will be the best way to handle it in order to keep the entire arts community under one cohesive organization that can control the whole thing."

Of the 19 comments submitted to the City Council by email, the majority voiced opposition to the UPAC project in general. They did not, however, speak specifically against the interlocal agreement, according to a council memo. 

The council voted 5-2 in support of adopting the cooperative resolution, with an amendment from Councilwoman Jill Remington Love.

The amendment stipulates that any public entity issuing bonds for the theater have authority to conduct an annual financial audit, extend the time given members to establish a UPAC board and requiring the UPAC board to review the details of the Arts Accessibility Program with the City Council prior to implementation.

Love's motion was a pared-down version of an amendment proposed by Councilman Soren Simonsen that would have also required the city and county councils be copied on all UPAC communications, as well as establishing an amount for each ticket sold that would be designated for the Arts Accessibility Program.

Love said the simplified amendment wouldn't micromanage the Center for the Arts and would allow flexibility in designing the Arts Accessibility Program.

Earlier in the day, members of the Salt Lake County Council voted 4-2 to support the operational model. 

Council Chairman Steve DeBry, who was joined in a nay vote by David Wilde, said his opposition wasn't necesarily to the operational decisions being made, but to the center in general.

"For me to say I'm for it is contrary to my initial vote," DeBry said. "I just think we're risking canabalizing our other facilities that we manage and we own."

Current financial struggles contributed to DeBry's opposition, he said.

"I think it's disingenuous when we have such a tough situation financially in the county, and we had to vote for a tax increase, which was just tormenting for me," DeBry said. "To then turn around and say we have money to throw at this initiative, I just think that sends a conflicting, confusing message to our citizens." 

A full quorum was not available for the County Council's meeting Tuesday afternoon, so the decision will have to be ratified next week.

E-mail: mromero@deseretnews.com

Twitter: McKenzieRomero

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