SALT LAKE CITY — When he was 5 years old, Talon Ackerman remembers listening to "Jolly Holiday" and "Step in Time" while watching Mary Poppins, his first Broadway production, in New York City.
"Just the energy that was bubbling from the stage and how much fun they were having," Ackerman, now 16, said. "I remember looking to my mom and saying, 'I wish I could do that someday. That would be so cool.'"
Ackerman has gone on to perform in live theater, films and television productions. He credits his inspiration to become an actor to that show in New York City. Sadly, he said, there are many Utah children who don't have opportunities to travel to see those kinds of shows.
Tuesday, Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker and Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams hosted the naming of a new performing arts center in downtown Salt Lake City that will give Utahns the opportunity to see national and international productions without leaving the state.
The new center will be called the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Theater, and ground was broken to begin construction of the 2,500-seat facility.
"Shows that have unfortunately been bypassing us now for years and would continue to will have a state of the art, fabulous home and really give all of us who love performing arts a whole new set of opportunities," Becker said.
The George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Foundation gifted $15 million to the new theater that is a joint venture between Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County. The theater also has the support of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a $2 million grant from the Larry H. and Gail Miller Family Foundation. Delta Air Lines also gave a donation that will be recognized through the theater's main performance hall naming.
The George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Theater is designed as a touring theater Becker said, giving it the scheduling flexibility to take advantage of touring shows that move across the country, including Broadway shows.
Steve Boulay is one of five people who head Magic Space Entertainment, the company responsible for bringing shows to the theater.
He said the venue will mean "bigger shows, more shows a lot sooner, and it will be way more comfortable and way more amenities in that theater. People are going to love it."
Becker said the center will "give Salt Lake City and our entire region a whole new opportunity for audiences and shows that we simply have not been able to accommodate here before."
Kurt Bestor, an Emmy award-winning singer and songwriter, said he began writing songs after seeing the "The Donny and Marie Show" that was produced in Utah.
"I had the same opportunity that kids will have where they'll see something to aspire to. They'll see dancers that dance incredibly, singers that sing amazingly," Bestor said. "They'll have the chance to aspire to that and if you never see that, you don't know what's available."
Bestor said the theater will be a magnet for productions but also for talent that is already here.
"In Utah, we need to know that this is a very special opportunity," he said.
The theater, 131 S. Main, is expected to have its first performances in mid-2016, according to Becker. Magic Space Entertainment anticipates announcing the first shows for the theater in about six months.
The theater is being designed by Peli Clarke Pelli in collaboration with local design team HKS Architects, and Layton Construction will head construction.
"What a grand time to celebrate with the community a beautiful theater that’s going to add real life and vibrance to this city," said Alan Rindlisbacher, director of marketing for Layton Construction.
"This is another one of those great pieces to the puzzle that makes Salt Lake one of the premier cities for business. We’re excited about it."