After two years of standing vacant because of structural problems, the Promised Valley Playhouse, that cultural bastion of downtown Salt Lake, can once again be restored to its former glory.
For $24.7 million.A Salt Lake County feasibility study on whether the theater could be renovated/rebuilt such that it could be used again concludes that it can, but it won't be easy.
The stage is too small and would need to be demolished and rebuilt. The wood auditorium floor would have to be torn out and replaced with a steel framework accommodating a rehearsal space underneath. The main floor lobby would be enlarged (by extending it out to the pillars in front of the east side), seats added, "soft stories" posing seismic dangers reconstructed - basically a complete do-over.
In fact, the work would be so extensive that Wally Cooper of Cooper/Roberts Architects, the consultants that conducted the feasibility study, said it would go beyond what is usually thought of as a renovation.
"We can recreate a theater that once existed, an elegance it had," he said. "It would not be a restoration except for the exterior."
The LDS Church currently owns the playhouse, and its myriad structural problems have made it a white elephant. Church officials have indicated a willingness to turn the theater over to Salt Lake County.
The county hopes the church would simply donate the building and land, though that's still up in the air.
A study done last year indicated the county needs a mid-size theater of about 1,200 seats. Even though originally the theater had that many, right now it has only 913. The study contemplates increasing that to 964.
A few more could be added from the orchestra pit when the pit is not in use, but even so, the county's director of community and support services, Julie Peck, is a bit dubious.
"I wish we could get 1,200," she said. "I don't know. It's such a beautiful building, it's hard to walk away from it."
And therein lies the conundrum for county officials. Simply building a new theater would be easier and more cost-effective, but the Promised Valley Playhouse has great sentimental and nostalgic value for Salt Lake residents.
Built in 1905, the theater has been known as the Orpheum, the Wilkes, the Lake, the Roxy, the Casino and the Lyric in its nine-decade history. The LDS Church took ownership in 1972, and it became the setting for church-related productions before closing last year.
"Renovating (the Promised Valley Playhouse) to its former glory is an alluring thought," said County Commissioner Randy Hor-i-uchi. "Twenty million dollars is also (a consideration), but we need something like this in downtown, something people can go to. I'm afraid of downtown becoming just a gaggle of offices. We need to maintain its character."
Commission Chairman Brent Overson said the only way the county can come up with the money to redo the theater is to bond.
"The people would have to rally around this," he said.
Lisbeth Henning, executive director of the Utah Heritage Foundation, said they would.
"It's a State Street landmark," she said. "You would have a larger constituency for this building than if you built a new building."
The County Commission is expected to make a decision on the theater's future by November.