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Republicans hold the key to vote on city's mega-theater
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The show must go on, but how it goes on is now up to Salt Lake County.

The County Council will consider Tuesday whether it will play a supporting role in Salt Lake City's proposed $110 million Broadway-style theater, or whether it will walk away.

If the County Council does not participate, the proposed 2,500-seat playhouse most likely will be scaled back.

As of Monday, the tea leaves were unclear, with Council Chairman David Wilde, a Republican, saying he didn't think he could support it, due to the price tag and an uncertain economy.

But Salt Lake City Councilman Kyle LaMalfa, who sits as chairman of the city's Redevelopment Agency, which is coordinating construction, said he is "hopeful" the County Council would endorse the plan.

"We have worked very hard with the county. The city has put a lot of resources [into the proposed agreement]," LaMalfa said. "The city has a lot at stake, the region has a lot at stake."

According to the proposal negotiated between County Mayor Peter Corroon and the Salt Lake City RDA, the partnership for the Utah Performing Arts Center would cost the county $28.2 million. That bill wouldn't come due until 2016. The agreement also would include a lucrative operating contract that could mean big bucks for the county in years to come.

"We have negotiated a very good operating agreement," said Nichole Dunn, Salt Lake County deputy mayor. "We feel that together, [Salt Lake County and Salt Lake City] could have a very good project going forward."

Dunn described the Broadway-style theater as a regional facility that would attract audiences from around the state and the West. According to projections, it would bring in about $4.7 million in sales taxes beyond ticket purchases, she said.

Salt Lake County's Center for the Arts now operates the Capitol Theatre, Rose Wagner Center and Abravanel Hall. The city would pay the county $600,000 annually to offset any income lost from competition with the Broadway-style theater, according to the proposed operating agreement.

Further, Salt Lake City would pay the costs of the theater productions and would split with the county on a 50/50 basis ticket receipts up to $2 million, Dunn said. Beyond $2 million, gate receipts would be divided by ownership interest: 80 percent to the city; 20 percent to the county.

County Councilman Jim Bradley, a Democrat, said the agreement was a "good deal" for the county. Beyond bringing the county revenues, it would ensure the Broadway-style theater didn't compete with Salt Lake County's other facilities. The new venue, to be built just south of the new City Creek Center, would help downtown's renaissance.

"I hope the vote doesn't break down along party lines. But it could," he said referring to the 5-4 majority held by County Council Republicans. "If it doesn't pass, it would be short-sighted."

But Wilde said such an expensive theater is difficult to embrace in tough economic times.

"We've got problems in the county," Wilde said. "Our [low] sales tax revenues are a real challenge and our capital maintenance issues have to be higher priority than this [theater]."

With or without the county's partnership, Salt Lake City's time frame mandates the project move forward.

In December, the City Council voted to spend $18 million to design the venue it hopes will contribute to a downtown renaissance. csmart@sltrib.com

Some fear vote could go along party lines; without support, theater could be scaled back.
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