Laura Seitz, Deseret News
Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker makes an announcement regarding the new Utah Performing Arts Center proposed to be built on Salt Lake City's Main Street between 100 and 200 South in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2012. HKS Architects will design the center and Layton Construction will build it.
When you're landing in a plane, it is hard to ignore the mountains, but that's not where the heart and soul of Salt Lake is. The heart and soul of the city is downtown. —Mitch Hirsch, Pelli Clarke Pelli

SALT LAKE CITY — Thoughts of street-level rehearsal spaces, a vibrant roof terrace and eclectic sidewalk cafes took center stage Thursday as members of the community began building a vision for the city's new performing arts center.

In addition to a state-of-the-art venue for first-run touring Broadway shows and other events, city officials want the $110-million project to not only invite patrons, but activate an otherwise expressionless portion of downtown, between Main Street and Regent Street and 100 and 200 South.

"The need for this has been there for decades, but now is the right time to get going on this," said Phil Jordan, director for Salt Lake County's Center for the Arts, which has partnered with the city to operate the new theater. He said the arts culture is "part of our life here."

"I would like to see people out again," said Ramiro Flores, a Sugar House resident who joined the first of many brainstorming sessions for the new performing arts center. "Whenever I come downtown at night, I wonder, where are the people? Why are they not taking in all that the city has to offer?"

Flores said a more vibrant downtown could put Salt Lake City on the map, giving tourists more reasons to visit and locals more pride in their hometown.

Wednesday's visionary workshop comes a month after local HKS and Connecticut-based Pelli Clarke Pelli architect groups were selected to design and develop the project. It was first announced in 2008, but a major theater has been on the city's back burner since the 1960s.

HKS' Mike Vela said Salt Lake City has a history of performing arts that dates even further back, to 1852. Social Hall was the city's first official gathering place and several theaters followed.

"It's a medium-sized city, but it is a city with broad shoulders," Vela said.

Residents and stakeholders who participated in the community workshop want the 2,500-seat theater to compliment cultural art options that are already present downtown, but also bring something new to the city. The possibility of street performers, art galleries, restaurants and shops, as well as other social opportunities and aesthetic properties were all part of the discussion.

The ideas will help architects begin the modeling process and move the project forward. Future workshops will be posted on the project website, at

"We are thrilled to be at this stage," said city spokeswoman Helen Langan. She said community members played a key part in the design and development of the city's Public Works Building that is now under construction. The outcome in both cases, Langan said, will hopefully give the public a sense of ownership, as parts of both facilities will end up containing elements that individuals asked for.

The new performing arts center will be funded primarily from downtown economic development monies currently being used to pay off remaining debt services on the Salt Palace and Energy Solutions Arena.

Architects are aiming to make the theater a self-sufficient building, with a net zero energy goal, that will enhance the city economically and also create an exciting downtown destination.

"When you're landing in a plane, it is hard to ignore the mountains, but that's not where the heart and soul of Salt Lake is," said Pelli Clarke Pelli's Mitch Hirsch. "The heart and soul of the city is downtown."

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