Financing for a $81.5 million grand theater in downtown Salt Lake City is "practical and achievable" and would pump about $3.3 million into Utah's economy annually, according to a report of the Downtown Theater Action Group.

Chairman Bill Becker held a press conference today to summarize the committee's work over the past 4 1/2 months to identify potential sites, financing options and economic benefits of a 2,400-seat theater capable of hosting touring Broadway productions.

The findings will be presented this week to Becker's brother, Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, who then will take the recommendations to the City Council.

The committee is recommending that the city begin negotiations with property owners on six potential sites and commence work with the state and Salt Lake County on funding options.

Bill Becker, a Tony Award-winning producer and experienced theater developer, owner and manager, was appointed by the mayor on Feb. 28 to spearhead the city's theater-development plans, with the top priority being finding a suitable location for a theater.

"We feel this new downtown theater will be a spark plug to encourage the further development of the arts throughout the state and integrate the extraordinary artistic endeavors we find throughout Utah," Bill Becker said.

The Downtown Theater Action Committee, made up of local business leaders and members of the arts community, identified four primary locations for the theater.

Renovation of the historic Utah Theater at 148 S. Main remains a top option, along with the former Newspaper Agency Corp. press site on Regent Street; the parking lot behind the Peery Hotel on the corner of Pierpont Avenue and 300 South; and the parking lot on the southwest corner of 300 South and West Temple, across the street from the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center.

"All four, no matter where the theater ends up being located, would contribute substantially to the economic vitality of Salt Lake City," he said. "They would enrich the development of the cultural arts in the city and throughout the state."

Each of the locations has convenient parking, Becker said, and all are in close proximity to the city's mass-transit system.

The committee also is recommending that the consider two other sites — land available as part of the Camden Centre development planned on the block between 100 South, 200 South, 500 West and 600 West; and a 3-acre parcel immediately north of Grand America on the corner of 500 South and Main Street.

The $81.5 million price tag for the project includes a 10 percent allowance for cost escalation. Becker said that figure may change some before the final report is presented to the mayor.

The project likely would qualify for assistance from the federal New Market Tax Credit program because all of the proposed theater sites are located in low-income areas. If congress extends the program into the next fiscal year, the committee estimates the project could receive about $16 million in tax credit financing.

The committee also is recommending that the city create a community development area, which would allow the city to return property taxes to the project. The city expects to receive an estimated $18 million in sales tax revenues from City Creek Center when the 20-acre development of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is complete in 2012.

Additional funding would need to come from the city, county, state and private donors, Becker said.

"I believe that a performing arts facility like this, whether it be located here or in New York City, could not be constructed without privately contributed funds or public funds," he said.

The committee is estimating annual attendance of 175,000 at the new theater, generating $11 million in ticket sales for first-run Broadway productions. In all, it's estimated the venue will generate about $22 million in economic activity, with about $3.3 million (or 15 percent) coming from out-of-state visitors.

Salt Lake City is in an unofficial race with Sandy to bring a Broadway-style theater to the valley. Private developers are 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.

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


E-mail: jpage@desnews.com