The Salt Lake County Council is right to conduct extensive due diligence before becoming a partner with Salt Lake City in building and managing a Utah Performing Arts Center in the capital city's downtown.
But, the County Council and its Debt Review Council, in the end, should see that the city's proposal is a good deal not only for county government but, most important, for all county residents.
The council opted to delay voting on an agreement to contribute $28.2 million in county funds to the $110 million theater project. It requested further review from the Debt Review Council of the funding mechanism which would involve the $1.7 million in annual taxes that pay for bonds on the EnergySolutions Arena. That agreement will end in 2015. Under Salt Lake City's plan, the county would then use that funding for its mega-theater.
Fortunately, Councilman Jim Bradley, pointing out the pluses for the county, rightly persuaded his colleagues to also ask the Debt Review Council for an analysis of what Salt Lake County could lose by not buying in.
The proposal would put the new 2,500-seat theater on Main Street under county management, as are other arts facilities, including the Capital Theatre, Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center and Abravanel Hall. The county would get 50 percent of the profits, and Salt Lake City would pay the county $600,000 annually to restore any losses incurred at the other county-run venues due to competition from the larger theater.
Some County Council members are leery of committing tax money to subsidize the performing arts, and that's a prudent viewpoint. But the truth is that arts groups and the venues required for patrons to enjoy their work almost never are financially self-sustaining.
The UPAC, as the proposed theater is now called, has been erroneously called a "Broadway-style" theater, when it is nothing of the sort. Most theaters on Broadway are small. More correctly, it would be a suitable venue for touring Broadway shows that are best performed on a large stage to a large audience. Think "Lion King," "Wicked" and other popular musicals that would draw not only from across the county but out of state as well.
The city's estimates of more than a quarter-million tickets sold each year might turn out to be high. But there is growing support for the theater among officials outside the capital who understand Utah is ready to embrace performing arts on a big scale. It's time to give audiences what they crave.