County wants more analysis before partnering on mega-theater
Debt Review Councilwill take a week or two to scrutinize deal.
Published: August 8, 2012 09:07AM
Updated: November 30, 2012 11:31PM

It was designed to be so inviting the Salt Lake County Council couldn’t say “no.”

But when the nine-member board unwrapped Salt Lake City’s partnership proposal Tuesday for a Broadway-style theater downtown, the County Council didn’t give a “yes.” It was more of a “maybe.”

The long anticipated vote was delayed for a week, or maybe two, until the county’s Debt Review Council can analyze the proposal.

As currently crafted, the county could buy into the $110 million playhouse project for $28.2 million.

In addition, Salt Lake County would operate the proposed Main Street performing arts center and take a 50 percent cut of profits. Beyond that, Salt Lake City would pay Salt Lake County $600,000 annually to defer any loses in competition suffered at the Capitol Theatre, Abravanel Hall and Rose Wagner Theater, which also are run by the county.

But Councilman Steve DeBry wanted a more in-depth look at the proposal and noted that many cities don’t encumber taxpayers by underwriting the performing arts.

“I do question the financing for this theater,” he said.

On DeBry’s motion, the council voted unanimously that the Debt Review Council analyze the proposed contract and operating agreement.

Councilman Jim Bradley, however, warned his colleagues that they may be sorry if they don’t partner up with Salt Lake City on such a sweet deal. He was successful in getting DeBry to amend his motion to include an analysis of what Salt Lake County could lose by not buying in.

“It seems like Salt Lake County is getting a hell of a deal here,” Bradley said.

A large part of the quandary involves about $1.7 million in annual taxes the county now pays on the EnergySolutions Arena. That agreement will end in 2015. Under Salt Lake City’s plan, the county would then use that funding for its mega-theater.

Council Chairman David Wilde said that could set a dangerous precedent.

And Councilman Richard Snelgrove said there was no guarantee the theater wouldn’t be a financial loser.

“This is a risk with taxpayers’ money — $28 million. And we already have existing cultural venues that are underwritten by taxpayers.”

Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker seemed to take the new scrutiny in stride.

“The city has put up a large share of this project, and we hope the county will join us,” he said in an interview. “If not, we’ll do something else.”

csmart@sltrib.com