Ballet West's school and rehearsal space will be moving downtown.

The Salt Lake County Council on Tuesday approved a $3.6 million contract to buy land adjacent to the Capitol Theatre, at 52 W. 200 South, with the aim of building a studio for Ballet West. The company had also been considering land in Sugar House on Wilmington Avenue (at about 2200 South and 1250 East) for building offices, studios, costume storage and a warehouse. But now, Ballet West dancers will be able to practice right next to the theater where they perform.

"The ballet's home should be downtown," said Phil Jordan, the county's director of the Center for the Arts.

With the addition of the new studio, the county will also renovate the Capitol Theatre.

The county plans to improve theater seating and sight lines and to expand the lobby and restrooms, Jordan said. The theater also needs some work to make it more accessible for disabled patrons.

Jordan anticipates construction on the studio to begin in about a year. Renovation of the Capitol Theatre, however, will take longer, since "the show must go on," Jordan said. Construction work will move slowly to accommodate the theater's performance schedule.

As part of the deal, the county will own two vacant restaurants on 200 South and also the building housing Benihana and the Blue Iguana. Both eateries would remain open after construction, however, with the county serving as landlord.

But county leaders don't want to be in the restaurant business, and will likely sell the Benihana and Blue Iguana property to another buyer to pay off part of the land purchase, said Darrin Casper, the county's chief financial officer.

The County Council's decision Tuesday could be the first step toward a downtown cultural arts district, several council members said. The idea is gaining momentum among local leaders, who paid for a study in which consultants said that downtown could support more arts venues with more frequent performances.

"This is going to be a wonderful addition to the county and downtown Salt Lake," Councilwoman Jenny Wilson said of the new home for Ballet West and the Capitol Theatre renovation.

Ballet West first approached the Salt Lake City Redevelopment Agency six years ago about the 2.1-acre site in Sugar House. Since then, the ballet company had been raising money and lining up plans for 120,000 square feet of building on the site.

The company raised $12 million in a capital campaign and needs about $8 million more. Donors who committed to the Sugar House site were happy to switch money over to a general campaign that may eventually include the downtown site, Dalton said.

The Capitol Theatre site would not have as much space as Sugar House, but Ballet West would not have to move and could contribute to an eventual arts and cultural district downtown, said Jessica Dalton, a Ballet West spokeswoman.

The city's RDA is considering chipping in some funding for the Ballet West project, but not for the land purchase, said Dave Oka, the city's RDA director. The board will likely discuss the issue at a meeting Oct. 12.

Contributing: Doug Smeath

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