Hale Centre Theatre considers big expansion
West Valley City • With a packed house at all Hale Centre Theatre productions, its officials are dreaming big: They envision nearly tripling the number of seats to 1,700, adding a second stage and updating the venue's technology that allows actors to soar over the audience when crowd pleasers like "Mary Poppins" are staged.
To pull off an ambitious expansion, the nonprofit theater company hopes to partner again with West Valley City, which bonded for funds to help build its current facility at 3500 South and Interstate 215 in the Decker Lake development.
"We would love to be able to re-up and look at how we could make something like this happen," Brent Lange, the theater's executive director, told the West Valley City Council last month.
The joint effort could result in "making this place a bigger arts mecca for the state and for our region," he said.
Lange and Roger Henriksen, an attorney who serves on Hale Theatre's board of directors, recently presented possible concepts for an expanded theater to council members. No plans have been finalized and no budget set; the next step is for theater and West Valley City officials to discuss whether the city wants to participate in the expansion.
Lange and Henriksen also appeared before the council in February to talk about the need to expand. Their most recent presentation provided a more detailed look at a possible expansion option.
Hale Theatre, 3333 S. 2200 West, was built in 1997 with $4.3 million in bonds and $4 million from a fundraising effort. West Valley City bought the land, bringing the project total up to approximately $11 million. The theater leases the facility from West Valley City,which uses the rent payments to pay for the bonds.The current lease expires at the end of 2016.
The theater a 42,000 square foot facility with 613 seats fills all seats at its productions and turns away thousands of people who can't get a ticket for a show, according to Henriksen. Without an expansion, the mission to offer affordable family-friendly theater will suffer, he said.
Under the potential expansion scenario, the venue would have a theater-in-the-round stage as it does now, and a proscenium stage, which the audience faces directly, each with 850 seats.
The 220,000-square-foot facility would include dressing rooms, rehearsal space, areas for hosting corporate events and an educational area for summer camps. The facility would include about 860 parking stalls, either in a parking structure or at street level.
The financial arrangement would be the same under this scenario, Henriksen said, and the theater would work to raise tens of millions of dollars to keep the bonds at an amount that could be covered by rent.
The site of a new theater and whether the current building would continue to operate are among the details that would be worked out. Whatever the decision, Hale Theatre does not want to go dark.
Rob Brough, chairman of the theater's board of trustees and executive vice president of marketing for Zions Bank, said the venue held 396 live productions last year attended by more than 250,000 patrons. That success has prompted the desire to explore expansion options and to keep the doors open during any transition, he said.
"We're bursting at the seams with the current facility," Brough said.
Several West Valley City officials have expressed interest in a partnership.
"We've always had a vision of the Decker Lake area being kind of the entertainment capital of Salt Lake County and the state of Utah and I think that it's still our vision to see that area grow as a cultural and entertainment area," Councilman Steve Vincent said, adding that city officials should do anything they can, within reason, to make that happen.
Vincent questioned how Salt Lake City's plans to build a Broadway touring theater with 2,500 seats would affect fundraising efforts.
Henriksen said Hale Theatre serves people who "love quality theater and are willing to pay to come to quality theater but not at 100 bucks a ticket."
"We don't believe that [the Salt Lake City theater] will impact our patron base," he said. "In fact, we think it probably highlights the fact that there's great quality theater here, and there's an alternative to paying those kinds of ticket prices."
Watch the meeting
To view a presentation to the West Valley City Council by Hale Centre Theatre officials about potential plans to expand the venue, visit http://bit.ly/r9Z1lv. Click on the City Council tab and then the link to the Sept. 11 meeting. The theater discussion is 9C on the agenda.