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Hale Centre Theatre's bid for state funding likely dead

Published March 7, 2013 11:04 am

Utah theater • A legislator compares it to a line from 'The Princess Bride.'
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Hale Centre Theatre's request to the Legislature for $2 million to help build its new theater landed with a thud late last week on an appropriations subcommittee of prioritized requests.

Second to last on a list of 32 items, the Legislature's Business, Economic Development and Labor Subcommittee did not apportion money for the request.

The ranking makes it unlikely the community theater's request, which has drawn scrutiny in light of the impressive salaries and benefits the nonprofit's top executives earn, will survive a second round with the Legislature's Appropriations Subcommittee by the end of the session March 14.

"Up here nothing's dead until midnight of the last day," said Rep. Jim Bird, R- West Jordan, chairman of the Business, Economic Development and Labor Subcommittee. "We're upholding that decision and moving forward. It [Hale's request] isn't dead but it's mostly dead, to steal a line from 'The Princess Bride.' "

The snub should not impact an annual appropriation of $87,500 Hale has received from the Legislature since 2007.

Former House Speaker Greg Curtis, acting as the theater's lobbyist, told lawmakers the $2 million was needed as seed money for a new $65 million facility. Soon after that request, Hale Centre executives announced a deal to build the new theater in Sandy, on 11.5 acres east of Interstate 15. The new theater will triple its seating capacity and add 20-foot LED walls and 26 rotating stages. Theater executives had been negotiating a deal with West Valley City but cut off talks to accept a deal with Sandy Mayor Tom Dolan instead.

The community theater, which reported an operating budget of $7.3 million last year, has drawn funding from Salt Lake County's Zoo, Arts and Parks (ZAP) funds. Last year Hale collected $857,112 in combined ZAP funds plus its annual appropriation from the Legislature.

According to 2011 tax records, theater President Mark Dietlein reported $150,996 in income that year, plus a retirement stipend of $15,000. His wife, Sally Dietlein, the theater's vice president, received $120,000 in income and also $15,000 in a retirement account.

House Majority Whip Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper, who put his name on Hale's request, said nothing's final yet.

"Everything's probably in play to some degree, until the House and Senate make a final decision," Hughes said.

Robert Brough, chairman of Hale's board of trustees and executive vice president of marketing and communications for Zions Bank, said the theater board will see its request through the session.

"We would hope that we'd receive an appropriation, but we recognize that the Legislature has to make a lot of difficult decisions. We'll just let the process play out and see what happens."