Mayor Ralph Becker has assembled a clout-filled cast of community and business leaders to assist Salt Lake City in bringing a Broadway-style theater to downtown.
The Downtown Theater Action Group convened for the first time Monday in a mostly organizational and informational meeting on finding a site and funding for a proposed 2,500-seat grand theater.
"We're off to a great start," Becker said. "We had a very strong discussion about what we're working to accomplish in downtown Salt Lake City."
Tony Award-winning producer Bill Becker, the mayor's brother, is directing Salt Lake City's efforts on a full-time, volunteer basis, with assistance from the local arts community, business leaders and civic organizations.
"I was exhilarated by the response today," said Bill Becker, whose resume also includes theater development, production and management. "Everybody has a lot of enthusiasm for this project."
Bill Becker outlined for the group three interrelated tasks that need to be accomplished to see the city's decades-long vision of a grand theater downtown become a reality location, financing and community involvement.
A handful of properties within a planned arts district for the two-block area bordered by 100 South, State Street, 200 South and West Temple are being considered as sites for a Broadway-style theater.
One of those is the historic Utah Theater at 148 S. Main. The city is finalizing an option agreement to purchase the more than 100-year-old theater, which would be renovated and likely expanded.
Expansion of the Utah Theater would require cooperation from Rocky Mountain Power, which has an electric substation directly behind the building.
Another option is the former Newspaper Agency Corp. press site on Regent Street, property that city officials say is the appropriate size for such a theater.
No price tag has been attached to the project, because it's undecided whether it will be new construction or building renovation. Both Beckers have declined to estimate the cost.
A subcommittee is being formed to focus solely on the project's funding to cover both capital and operational costs.
"We don't want to build a structure but then saddle the next generation or generations with the cost of trying to figure out how to pay for what we came up with," Bill Becker said. "That's not the way we're going about developing the concept for this project. We want it to be established on a financially sound basis, so we know we've got the costs of construction lined up, as well as the operating costs."
State and local funding sources are being explored, Bill Becker said, as is the preferred option of a public-private partnership.
"I've been very delighted to hear from various people in the community that there is a strong interest in private philanthropy for the development of this project," he said.
The city is conducting site and funding searches for the project concurrently, Mayor Becker said, while also tackling the third task of community involvement.
"We're interacting with a range of interests in the community to make sure we're moving ahead in a way that's inclusive and will produce the best results," he said.
The arts community must be held harmless throughout the process, the mayor said.
"It's important to us that we're not siphoning funds away from what is a very successful performing arts culture here in Salt Lake and in the region," he said.
Sandy city officials also want to build a 2,500-seat theater as part of an office, condominium and retail complex near City Hall. Leaders from both cities have said the Salt Lake Valley can only support one such theater.
Bill Becker said Salt Lake City's theater plans will not be affected by those of Sandy.
"Downtown Salt Lake City has had extraordinary interest in getting this built for many, many years," he said. "It's going to be built."The mayor's Downtown Theater Action Group plans to meet again at 8 a.m. Monday at the Salt Lake City-County Building, 451 S. State. The meeting is open to the public.
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