Salt Lake County residents would be more likely to attend touring Broadway shows at a theater in Salt Lake City than in Sandy, but most say a new 2,500-seat venue isn't needed anywhere in the valley.

A poll conducted by Dan Jones & Associates for the Deseret News and KSL-TV indicates that Salt Lake City is leading the popularity contest — if not the race — to bring a Broadway-style theater to the Salt Lake Valley.

Of the 236 residents interviewed, 44 percent said they would more likely attend productions in Salt Lake City, compared with 24 percent preferring Sandy. It was a tossup for 15 percent, and another 15 percent said they wouldn't see a show at either place.

Responses to a separate question showed that most county residents don't think the Salt Lake Valley needs a new theater. Fifty-nine percent of those polled said a new theater is definitely or probably not needed, compared with 36 percent who believe the demand exists. Still, only 12 percent said there is a definite need.

A majority of county residents also don't want to see public money used to partially fund construction of a downtown theater, according to the poll. Fifty-six percent of those polled said they are against using public money for the project — including 35 percent who "definitely oppose" it. Forty-one percent said they would support the use of public funds.

The poll was conducted May 13-19 and has a 6.5 percent margin of error.

Bill Becker, who was appointed by his brother, Salt Lake Mayor Ralph Becker, to spearhead the city's theater-development plans, said he's "heartened" and "gratified" by the poll results — particularly the 41 percent who say they would support some public funding for the theater.

Salt Lake City has not yet made its case to the public about the importance of a downtown theater and the economic, educational and cultural benefits it would bring, said Bill Becker, a Tony Award-winning producer and experienced theater developer, owner and manager.

"We've seen a huge erosion of governmental support for the arts over the past 20, 30 or 40 years to the extent that in many states there is actually no public support for the arts — both the visual arts and the performance arts," he said. "Utah really stands out as an exception to that."

A Broadway-style theater in downtown Salt Lake City has been in the works for several years, though city officials and community leaders say they became more focused on making it a reality after Mayor Becker was elected in November.

Sandy seized the spotlight in mid-February when it announced that private developers were working with the suburban city to build a 2,400-seat theater to anchor the $500 million Proscenium, a 12-acre mixed-use development at approximately 10000 South.

Mayor Becker countered a week later with an announcement that Salt Lake City would have a Broadway-style theater in the near future and that the old Utah Theater at 148 S. Main was a possible site.

Leaders from both cities have said Salt Lake Valley can only support one such theater.

Utah County developer Scott McQuarrie plans to fund the Sandy project, but the development would not have to pay its share of property taxes for the first few decades. Sandy is considering an arrangement where it would lease-to-own and manage the theater, but nothing has been decided yet. The theater could be complete by 2012.

"We're excited that someone wants to put something here that is usually paid for with public money," said Sandy spokesman Nick Duerkson. "The developer has done his homework. He and his investors think it will do very well."

Bill Becker contends that any Broadway-style theater built in Utah will require some measure of government support.

"When it is built, there will have to be some form of subsidy, some public funding and underwriting of the theater," he said.

Bill Becker said he believes a downtown theater could be financed through incremental tax revenues that Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County and the state would receive as a result of constructing the theater.

"The funding has to be structured in a way that everybody benefits from it," he said. "It's going to be a cultural benefit and a financial benefit to the entire state when we get this up and running."

Unlike Sandy, Salt Lake City has yet to settle on a site for its theater. Earlier this month, Bill Becker announced that three sites were being strongly considered, though a decision isn't like to come until early July.

In addition to the Utah Theater, the city is considering the former Newspaper Agency Corp. press site on Regent Street and the parking lot on the southwest corner of 300 South and West Temple, across the street from the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center.

Salt Lake City envisions a state-of-the-art performing arts theater as the cornerstone of a downtown arts, culture and entertainment district.

"Having a theater in downtown Salt Lake City in a cultural district will have a significant impact on existing businesses and will no doubt attract additional convention business," Bill Becker said.

In March 2007, a performing arts center for touring Broadway productions was proposed as a signature project of Downtown Rising, the Salt Lake Chamber and Downtown Alliance's vision for downtown planning and development.

Contributing: Rebecca Palmer

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