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Utah Shakespeare Festival
Artist rendering of the new $26.5 million Shakespeare Theatre on the campus of Southern Utah University in Cedar City.

SALT LAKE CITY — The Tony Award-winning Utah Shakespeare Festival Thursday announced plans to build a $26.5 million theater with the promise of increasing the size of the festival and bringing a greater economic impact to the local economy.

Construction of the new 900-seat theater, on the campus of Southern Utah University in Cedar City, is expected to begin in the fall of 2013 and would be ready by 2015. The management team said most of the money is in place but $8.5 million is still needed to complete the project.

The current open-air Adams Theater has served actors, directors and patrons for more than 35 years, said Utah Shakespeare Festival founder Fred Adams. But as the festival has grown, the organization has sought a larger, more modern facility to attract more than the 150,000 visitors that attend each summer and fall.

“You must create what our audiences have already known for 40 years: the Adams theater,” said Utah Shakespeare Festival founder Fred Adams. “We must have that wonderful fresh air, that open sky.”

Keeping “Shakespeare under the stars,” became the top focus with the design of the theater. But if the weather turns rainy, too windy or cold, technicians will be able to close a retractable roof when the new theater is completed; stars will still be there, but painted on the ceiling when it's closed.

The retractable roof will allow expansion of the play season and the potential of year-round usage. The theater will also offer greater audience amenities, such as public restrooms, accommodations for the disabled, and heating and air conditioning improvements.

"We will be able to extend into the fall and winter months, while maintaining comfort for our patrons," said Utah Shakespeare Festival Artistic Director Brian Vaughn.

They predict a longer season will be a boost to Southern Utah's economy.

"Annually, we generate about $36 million for the local economy," said festival executive director R. Scott Phillips. "And with this new theater, we will almost immediately be able to add $8 million more to that and hopefully attract 30,000 more patrons."

The new theater is also expected to attract top-notch actors, providing them with rehearsal space and comfortable dressing rooms.

"We're not just talking about comfort for our patrons," said David Ivers, also a festival artistic director. "We're talking about comfort for our artists but also using technology to the best of its ability to produce world-class theater."

Festival managers said the theater is phase one of what they hope will be construction of a Tudor Village with shops and restaurants.  But there is no timeline in place for an expanded project.

E-mail: cmikita@desnews.com