Plans for Ballet West's state-of-the-art Sugar House facility are on hold, pending developments in a proposed downtown cultural center, according to Johann Jacobs, Ballet West executive director.

The Salt Lake Chamber has for the past several months been floating the idea of developing an arts and cultural center in the heart of the city, including the renovation of the old Utah Theatre on Main Street.

The chamber's plan for downtown, reported by the Deseret Morning News in May, is to create a complex like those in Pittsburgh or New York's Lincoln Center by drawing art galleries and theater, music and dance companies to a common creative hub downtown. Currently, discussions center on the area between 100 South and 200 South and West Temple and State Street.

Jacobs told the Deseret Morning News in May that he would be interested in learning "more about whether the Utah Theatre could accommodate what the ballet needs."

Now, Ballet West has decided to weigh its options, to determine whether it would be more beneficial to remain downtown, Jacobs said.

"We've put the plans of the Sugar House facility on hold temporarily," he said. "We did this because of the cultural-plaza development idea. And we are excited to be considered to be part of the planning."

Jacobs said that before Pittsburgh built its plaza that city's downtown area was in more decline than Salt Lake City's. "So, if the plans for our city go through, it will have a positive impact for us and the surrounding communities," he said.

Business, creative and government representatives have been supportive of the Salt Lake Chamber's plan. But warming to a concept isn't an automatic green light, and questions remain.

"We've had no conversations to this point," said Harry Whipple, president and chief executive of the Newspaper Agency Corp., whose building on Regent Street has been talked about as a possible site for galleries and shops. "I think the project is certainly a worthy project and is exciting for the future of downtown. But it's premature, for us, at this point."

Whipple said the NAC has no specific plans for the building, which currently houses the presses that print the Deseret Morning News and Salt Lake Tribune. The NAC is building a new press building in West Valley City that should be done by 2006.

John Ballard, CEO of Clear Channel's Broadway in Utah series, said Thursday, "I think it's a wonderful concept, and using the performing arts to generate business downtown is a very solid idea and a proven formula that's been successful in other cities, such as Denver and Milwaukee.

"It's a great idea," Ballard said. "All we need is $200 million, and I'm sure that won't be a problem. There are lots of individual, specific questions that remain to be answered, but as a concept, I think it's a wonderful idea. My only fear would be that this project is so big it would take a long time to do it and that would delay the renovation of the Utah Theatre, and I hope that wouldn't happen. This is a project that could take a couple of decades to finish, and the Utah Theatre is something that could be done in a couple of years."

So far, Ballet West has raised more than $12 million for its new home, wherever that may be. Jacobs said he doesn't see any negative backlash if Ballet West decides to remain downtown.

"Whether our new home is built in Sugar House or downtown, we will still have a new home," Jacobs said. "And the donations don't seem to be a problem. We've already talked to our top donors, and they told us that they would continue with their pledges and donations, because the money is for Ballet West, no matter where we go."

The donors include the Jessie E. Quinney Foundation, the George S. and Dolores Dore Eccles Foundation and the Emma Eccles Jones Foundation.

The Salt Lake Planning Commission, which also oversees development in Sugar House, is supportive of Ballet West and has agreed to wait. "We did approve the plans of Ballet West's facilities," said Doug Wheelwright of the Salt Lake City Planning Commission. "But they have not pursued the issue any further, nor have they applied for any building permit. They just submitted plans for the facility."

Wheelwright did say that there is an expiration date on all planning applications. "If the application expires without any further developments, then all anyone has to do is come in and reapply."

Addressing the Ballet West facility, Wheelwright said that the Salt Lake Planning Commission "would be happy to have it built anywhere."


Contributing: Jenifer K. Nii; Ivan M. Lincoln