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Pete Widtfeldt, Hale Center Theater Orem
Hale Center Theater Orem's current theater is located at 225 W. 400 North, Orem, and was converted from a veterans hall.

OREM — Hale Center Theater Orem received an early Christmas present this week: a $1 million pledge for the construction of a new facility at University Place.

The pledge comes from the Woodbury Corporation, the real estate and development company behind University Place, “the 120-acre mixed-use community formerly known as University Mall,” according to a news release.

“Financing and construction of a performing arts facility like we have planned would not be possible without strong support from a committed city entity and developer,” Anne Swenson, HCTO’s artistic director, said in an email to the Deseret News. “We are very optimistic to be currently partnered with Orem City and Woodbury Corporation.”

The intended site for the theater is next to the Orchard, the outdoor community gathering space at University Place. Current plans call for a 568-seat main stage theater with a proscenium thrust stage — meaning the audience surrounds three of the stage’s four sides — as well as a 200-seat black box theater and a grand lobby. HCTO officials hope the new theater will relieve some of the pressure it has felt by way of ticket demands; the theater recently hit the benchmark of serving 150,000 patrons a year, according to the news release.

Provided by Hale Center Theater Orem
A concept rendering of Hale Center Theater Orem's planned new facility at University Place in Orem.

“We’re consistently in the 97 percent fill rate for our shows, but our current location doesn’t allow us to grow in the way we need to,” said Cody Swenson, executive director at Hale Center Theater Orem, in the news release. “After working closely with city officials on how to best turn our expansion ideas into reality, the obvious location was University Place because it is in essence the center of everything in Orem.”

Although the new theater’s seating capacity is slated to increase by 265 seats, Anne Swenson assures that HCTO intends to bring the “intimacy and magic” of its current space to the University Place theater.

“I … emphasize our organization-wide dedication to maintaining our long-held mission statement ‘… to provide a high quality, intimate, theatrical experience while maintaining affordable ticket prices; furnish an excellent venue for artists to express their talents and gain valuable experience; and invest in people by providing a positive place for children and adults to learn and perform,’” she said.

The Woodbury pledge kicks off HCTO’s fundraising push to move forward with the project. Although Anne Swenson said additional information about the facility’s projected cost will be forthcoming as construction estimates are finalized, she said it will be funded with public and private contributions “as well as substantial funds from the theater itself.”

Provided by Hale Center Theater Orem
Hale Center Theater Orem founders Ruth and Nathan Hale.

“As a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, the support of our patrons and community is paramount to our success and will be even more so with a project of this magnitude,” she said, adding that Orem City is “committed to the project and is currently working to solidify their contribution.”

HCTO has continued to outgrow the converted veterans hall at 225 N. 400 West it has called home since the theater company was founded in 1990 by Ruth and Nathan Hale, and the University Place project is not the first time HCTO has sought to build a new theater.

In the early 2000s, HCTO announced plans for a $5 million facility on 800 North in Orem and started campaigning for financial support, but that project stalled and fizzled out with 9/11 and its economic shock, according to a previous Deseret News article.

Again in 2007, HCTO moved forward with building plans, this time in Orem’s Midtown Village, and even got so far as to have an official groundbreaking on the project. But by 2008, the Great Recession put the brakes on the Midtown Village development as a whole.

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If all goes as planned with the fundraising and city approvals for the University Place project, construction on HCTO’s new home could start as early as 2020.

“We are grateful to the City of Orem for bringing both parties to the table and facilitating this partnership,” said W. Richards Woodbury, chairman at Woodbury Corporation, in the news release. “University Place is committed to both the arts and the community, so the idea of having Hale Center Theater Orem here as the crown jewel of our growing town center is very exciting.”

For additional information on HCTO’s fundraising efforts or to make a donation, visit haletheater.org/support.