SALT LAKE CITY — A construction worker placed a floral spray on a folding table in the Capitol Theatre lobby.
The now-gutted theater held people in dresses and suits almost worthy of an evening production.
Soon after, casually dressed members of the public joined construction workers and spiffed-up donors in a pit of dirt next door to the Capitol Theatre — 12 feet below ground level.
Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams and Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker spoke Monday at the groundbreaking event of the Jessie Eccles Quinney Ballet Centre and renovation of the Janet Quinney Lawson Capitol Theatre.
"Salt Lake is a thriving metropolitan area, with a rich tapestry of cultural and artistic offerings," McAdams said.
The crowd clapped their hands as Rick Lawson, retired dean of St. Mark's Cathedral and son of the late Janet Quinney Lawson, threw a bottle of champagne against one of the retaining walls. Because the ground was already clearly broken, he said, they needed to do something to christen the site of the future building.
For some, the dance studio and renovations are the culmination of decades of dreams.
Peter Christie's eyes filled with tears as he searched for words to describe his emotions.
"I think of all the dancers that have gone through" the Ballet West program, he said, shaking his head and placing one hand on his chest.
Christie is celebrating his 31st year with Ballet West, first as a dancer and now as director of education for Ballet West and Ballet West Academy.
The new dance center will allow the company to expand its outreach, which currently services more than 100,000 students and teachers each year, he said.
This $31 million project takes place during the 100th anniversary of Capitol Theatre and the 50th anniversary of Ballet West. The projects were funded by the Janet Quinney Lawson Foundation, S.J. and Jessie E. Quinney Foundation, George S. and Dolores Dore' Eccles Foundation, Emma Eccles Jones Foundation, John and Marcia Price Family Foundation and Frederick Q. Lawson Foundation.
Salt Lake County spent $2.4 million for the land where the Jessie Eccles Quinney Ballet Center will be built. The county has also approved $8 million to go toward the renovations of the Janet Quinney Lawson Capitol Theatre and public program growth in the Jessie Eccles Quinney Center for Dance, said Cami Munk, spokeswoman for the Salt Lake County Center for the Arts.
Salt Lake City will also put $2 million toward theater improvements. Ballet West will give $10.5 million cash to help pay for the new dance center. The balance will likely be paid by federally funded new market and historic tax credits, Munk has said.
Ballet West is one of several performing companies that uses the Capitol Theatre's facilities.
Improvements to the Capitol Theatre include doubling the number of restrooms, updating the heating, air conditioning and ventilation system, raising the stage by 4 inches to improve audience visibility, reupholstering and padding the fixed seats in the auditorium, improving orchestra pit acoustics, and expanding the lobby area.
The new dance center will house administration offices and technical support areas for Ballet West and five dance studios, according to a Center for the Arts news release.
In 2006, Ballet West began working on the project with the Center for the Arts.
Work on the improvements is scheduled to run from the end of June through November, and the Jessie Eccles Quinney Center for Dance is set to be built between July 2013 and September 2014.
The Capitol Theatre will reopen Dec. 1 for the annual production of the Nutcracker.
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