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Utah Shakespeare Festival receives $5M gift from Vegas family

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(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Crowds gather on the grass of Southern Utah University in Cedar City to watch the Utah Shakespeare Festival's Greenshow. The festival announced Friday a $5 million gift from the Engelstad Family of Las Vegas, the largest in the festival's history. The money will help fund the construction of the festival's state-of-the-art theater, slated for groundbreaking at the end of 2013.

By ben Fulton

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Nov 16 2012 05:53PM
Updated Mar 6, 2013 11:33PM

Cedar City • The largest gift in the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s 51-year history has put the Tony Award- and Emmy Award-winning theater company within striking distance of the $26.5 million needed to build its new outdoor theater.

The Festival’s Board of Governors and executive director R. Scott Phillips announced the $5 million gift from the Engelstad Family Foundation of Las Vegas Friday. The foundation was created by Ralph Engelstad, past owner of the Imperial Palace casino and hotel in Las Vegas.

"We are forever grateful to the foundation and the enthusiasm it has sparked in helping us to achieve our dream," Phillips said in a statement.

The festival unveiled plans for the new theater in February, after seven years of fundraising produced $18 million toward the needed total. One month after that announcement, Utah lawmakers announced a $500,000 allocation for construction of the new building. It was the largest one-time amount the festival had ever received from the state.

Phillips said at the time the festival originally requested $5 million from lawmakers for the new theater. The first request was based on studies showing the festival generated more than $35 million in annual economic activity for the state.

Construction on the new outdoor theater is set to begin in fall 2013, and will create some 300 construction jobs over the two-year building period. "The most significant impact of the new theater is that it will extend the festival theater season by 25 percent into the fall and winter months," Brian Vaughn, festival co-artistic director, said in February.

The new theater will be designed with a retractable roof, and will seat 900 people, which promoters say will draw an additional 30,000 patrons annually. It will be built two blocks east of the festival’s iconic Adams Shakespearean Theatre, which will remain in operation during construction.

Once complete, it will add more than 80 seats over the 819 held by the festival’s current outdoor Adams Shakespearean Theatre, built in the style of London’s Globe Theatre. Located two blocks east of the Adams Shakespearean Theatre, the new theater on 200 West between Center Street and College Avenue will replicate the design of its current theater.

Michael T. Benson, president of Southern Utah University, which hosts the festival, said in a statement that the Englestad Family Foundation gift put the festival on the path to a bright future. "We are well on our way to ensuring that the festival’s next 50 years will have a facility to match the quality of its productions."

bfulton@sltrib.com

Twitter:@Artsalt

Facebook.com/fulton.ben

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