Ballet may get city center HQ
Arts advocates call it the catalyst toward a downtown Salt Lake City cultural district.
A deal crafted quietly for months may be finalized today, creating a spacious new lobby for the Capitol Theatre and keeping Ballet West in the heart of Utah's capital.
The Salt Lake County Council will review a purchase plan for the property just west of the theater. It would house the ballet's dance center, additional offices and a VIP hospitality suite.
The arrangement - Ballet West has raised $12 million toward the dance hub - would physically connect the fine arts operations; carve room for rehearsals, more students, restrooms and concessions; and create much-needed space for mingling during intermissions.
"We have a ways to go before we get the wrecking ball, but we are extremely excited to get going," said Phil Jordan, who manages the county's venues as director of Center for the Arts.
Johann Jacobs, Ballet West's executive director, said he has to ensure all donors endorse the move, which he praised as a "win-win."
"We're delighted at the prospect of having a permanent downtown home," Jacobs said. "It's extremely attractive to us."
The property, at 52 W. 200 South, now houses offices and multiple eateries, including Benihana and Blue Iguana - both which would remain - and two shuttered restaurants lining 200 South that would be razed. A tenant who wanted a Salt Lake City loan to launch a nightclub dubbed "Club Bliss" in that space has elected to look elsewhere.
Since 2002, Ballet West has been raising money for its Jessie Eccles Quinney Center for Dance. That studio was slated for a parcel just east of Sugar House's eclectic retail district near 2100 South and 1100 East.
Now, Jordan notes, the ballet can put its $12 million toward a downtown headquarters, which along with the theater improvements may see some cash from the county and the city.
Dave Oka, director of Salt Lake City's Redevelopment Agency, cautions the purchase agreement is not done - but looks promising.
"With the dialogue I've had with most of the elected officials, it looks very positive," he said.
Oka also suggested money for the move could come from the City Council, acting as the RDA Board, which consistently has backed the cultural-district prospect.
"There would be some good support," he said.
If the deal happens, Oka said, the RDA Board would place out to bid the Sugar House property previously held for Ballet West.
Arts proponents, including Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon and Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson, consider the Ballet West move a key step toward creating a downtown cultural district. The concept is to cluster fine arts venues, including a film center and a Broadway-sized theater.
County Councilman Jim Bradley said the amenities created through this stage of the downtown project - and the synergy - make sense.
"It's a great marriage."
Joe Hatch, Bradley's council colleague, said he doesn't anticipate any opposition to a plan certain to bring "dynamism" downtown.
"I don't see any reason why [the County Council] would not approve it," he said.
Under the terms, the county would own the property and then lease the space, an agreement Jacobs called "amenable."
With the new space, Jordan said, the ballet should generate enough revenue to avoid ticket hikes.
Time frame for construction: three to five years.
"We've been wanting to move forward with this a long time," Jordan said. "Now, we have the momentum."
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