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New theater, skyscraper, plaza set the stage for downtown’s next big act

First Published      Last Updated Oct 20 2016 05:53 pm

Regent Street » The rundown midblock and three connecting streets are getting a $12.8 million face-lift.

Imagining Salt Lake City's second century, leaders predicted two generations ago that a Broadway-style theater would bring new prosperity to downtown.

Thanks to economic factors they could not have foreseen — and plenty of serendipity — anticipated gains to the central business district from the 2,500-seat George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Theater are likely to be even larger than envisioned.

Take a virtual tour of the Eccles Theater.

Expected to draw thousands downtown by itself, the $119 million arts and culture hub at 131 S. Main opens this week with two companion developments: a 24-story office tower to the north and a pedestrian-friendly plaza to the rear.

The nearly simultaneous opening of the Eccles Theater, the 111 Main high-rise and an overhauled Regent Street on what is known as Block 70 is being viewed as a watershed moment. It already is spurring new investment and, officials say, could transform how Salt Lake City markets itself to the world.

On the ground, the additions are projected to bring more than 7,000 visitors downtown at peak times — levels of foot traffic and commercial activity reminiscent of the 2002 Winter Olympics.

The projects are being unveiled amid a multiyear upswing in commercial real estate markets downtown.

Longer term, top-flight and visually appealing amenities on that high-profile block have the potential of adding to downtown's cache in workforce recruitment as employers seek talented new executives and entrepreneurs consider locating in Utah's capital.

"People want to live in places that are cool and dynamic and interesting," said Jason Mathis, executive director of the merchant-backed Downtown Alliance. "It's difficult to overestimate the role the theater will have downtown in our economic and cultural life."

So difficult, in fact, that city officials temper their public talks on how the Eccles Theater and surrounding developments came together, so as not to take too much credit for good luck.

"It happened by accident," said Justin Belliveau, head of the city's Redevelopment Agency (RDA).

The 'Main' concern • Built with taxpayer funds and private donations, the theater's main feature — its 2,500-seat Delta Performance Hall — is intended as a regional arts hub, answering calls nestled in city master plans since the mid-1960s.

Eccles Theater is accompanied by a smaller on-site theater, several event and rehearsal spaces, a lobby restaurant, an outdoor plaza and a galleria connecting it to the adjacent office tower.

Under daily operation by Salt Lake County, the facility is expected to host events ranging from full-scale Broadway shows to community gatherings on at least 200 nights a year.

Magnifying its benefits has been a key factor in the theater's location, design and construction. Most strikingly, architects sought to visually connect the theater's six-story lobby, other interior spaces and an upper-level balcony to its surroundings through an exterior of glass walls.

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