Mid-Valley Performing Arts Center, a $45 million ‘jewel’ in Taylorsville, opens doors to arts groups big and small

Salt Lake County expands its cultural scope beyond the downtown Salt Lake City nightlife scene.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Mainstage Theater at the new Mid-Valley Performing Arts Center in Taylorsville is photographed on Friday, May 21, 2021.

An empty concert hall is almost spookily quiet.

Standing in the lobby of the new Mid-Valley Performing Arts Center, a Salt Lake County-owned venue soon to open in Taylorsville, Jeff Gwilliam points out how still it is — a neat trick for a building placed next to Interstate 215 and a busy 5400 South, and below the approach for the South Valley Regional Airport.

“You can listen to the bass noise in here, then you can walk outside,” said Gwilliam, associate director for operations for the county’s arts & culture division. Outside the $45 million facility, the hum of traffic is unmistakable — but it fades out entirely when you step inside.

Starting with open houses on June 1, 3 and 5, audiences will get to escape the sound of traffic to hear and see performances — music, dance and more — from professional arts groups and community nonprofits, in a venue that expands Salt Lake County’s cultural footprint beyond the established art hubs of downtown Salt Lake City and the Sandy/Draper area.

“We’re going to serve a lot of different residents, and we’re thrilled about that,” said Holly Yocom, director of the county’s Department of Community Services, which includes the arts & culture division. By being located in Taylorsville — a west-side city at the midpoint, north to south, of the Salt Lake Valley — the new venue, Yocom said, will “hopefully reach new audiences, and build the base for arts and culture for [this] facility.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) The new Mid-Valley Performing Arts Center in Taylorsville on Friday, May 21, 2021.

The Mid-Valley Performing Arts Center is a new concept for Salt Lake County, which has built a cultural empire with its four venues in downtown Salt Lake City: Abravanel Hall, the home of the Utah Symphony; the Capitol Theatre, where Ballet West and Utah Opera perform; the Eccles Theatre, which plays host to touring Broadway productions and major concerts; and the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, home to such groups as Plan-B Theatre, Repertory Dance Theatre and Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company.

The county has been looking at placing a venue outside the downtown nexus since 2008, said Matt Castillo, director of the arts & culture division.

“One of our greatest needs was found to be in the mid-part of the valley,” Castillo said. The county wanted “someplace that can serve as a regional hub for performing arts groups, that could serve cities like Murray, Taylorsville, Magna, Kearns — as well as on the east side, like Millcreek and Cottonwood Heights.”

Taylorsville was chosen, Yocom said, because of its proximity to the interstates and its thriving arts council. “There’s the passion side of it, the usage side of it and the practicality side of it,” she said. “All of those things were considered, and it just checked off all those boxes.”

The city of Taylorsville provided the land, at 2525 W. Taylorsville Road (5400 South), a stone’s throw from Taylorsville City Hall. The Salt Lake City architectural firm Method Studio designed the building, working with The Shalleck Collaborative, a performing-arts consulting firm with offices in Berkeley, California, and Portland, Oregon. Jacobsen Construction, based in Salt Lake City, built it.

Three performance spaces in one building

The Mid-Valley has three event spaces, similar to the Rose Wagner.

The Mid-Valley’s Main Stage Theatre is a 439-seat proscenium theater with a deep stage area and a balcony — and whose front seats can retract under the stage for an orchestra pit. The black box theater, Studio 5400, can seat 212 when its 12 rows of seating are fully extended, but those rows can retract like bleachers to open up the space for different forms of performance. And the Centennial Room can be a rehearsal space, a performance venue or a reception room.

The lobby includes a gallery wall, which will at first feature work from the county’s public art collection, said Jessica Liebrecht, the venue’s manager. The space may open up for juried exhibitions, community arts groups and individual artists, she said. And, according to Castillo, the ceiling of the lobby has rigging that could be used by aerial artists.

“The theater was really designed to meet a huge variety of needs,” Castillo said. “We really tried to build it in a way that it would be used by as broad a spectrum as possible.”

While conducting a tour of the center, Gwilliam said the county worked with the architect and builder to apply lessons learned from operating its downtown venues.

The most important, Gwilliam said, was to insulate the three venue spaces from each other acoustically.

“That was my biggest ‘we have to correct this’ from the Rose Wagner,” Gwilliam said. “If Plan-B is doing a one-man show or something very quiet in the studio theater, and you’ve got a dance group in the black box, and they open those doors,” he said, the dance music can overwhelm the play.

To avoid that, the Mid-Valley has acoustical separations between each of the three event spaces, Gwilliam said. The building’s entire acoustic setup, he estimated, cost between $1 million and $2 million.

The stage of the Main Stage is deeper than the Rose Wagner’s, big enough for a 60-person orchestra, such as the Taylorsville-SLCC Symphony, which is expected to make the Mid-Valley its home.

“Just because you have a smaller audience does not mean you need less production space,” Gwilliam said.

The Centennial Room is big enough to be used as the Taylorsville orchestra’s rehearsal space, and has acoustic drapery, “so that, with 60 people, you’re not deafening everybody simultaneously,” Gwilliam said. The room also has a back door, so an orchestra can move its harp and cellos to the Main Stage without cutting through the lobby.

The sides of the proscenium can roll out to narrow the stage’s “fourth wall” — a useful feature for dance companies who want more space in the wings, he said.

Studio 5400′s configuration is wider than the black-box theaters at the Rose and the Eccles, allowing more room on the sides for production equipment, Gwilliam said. And there are catwalks on the side walls “if somebody wants to do the balcony scene from ‘Romeo & Juliet,’” he said.

Studio 5400 has a sophisticated lighting grid suspended from the ceiling, with a series of catwalks, so a lighting designer can access every light fixture easily without having to bring in a cherry-picker. And the lighting system is designed to be relatively foolproof, Gwilliam said, usable by anyone from professional stagehands to high school crews.

The Main Stage and Studio 5400 have separate dressing rooms and green rooms, and a wardrobe room with dedicated laundry machines. “Workers are threatened within an inch of their lives if they use wardrobe washers and dryers for dirty rags,” Gwilliam joked.

There are two loading docks in the back. One features a downward ramp that can accommodate a semitrailer truck, for large professional productions. The other is at ground level, and will probably get more use, Gwilliam said.

“Our anticipation is 99% of our clients will either be in a U-Haul they rented or borrowed, or everybody’s pick-up and Subaru,” Gwilliam said.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

A different kind of audience

Who will perform at the Mid-Valley? Many of the same professional arts groups that use the county’s downtown venues, Castillo said.

“Everybody is saying this is a really exciting opportunity to expand their footprint, expand their audience development efforts, to be able to reach more and more families and individuals in that part of the valley that maybe don’t like to come downtown,” he said.

Joshua Jones, spokesman for Ballet West, said the troupe plans to bring its second company, Ballet West II, to the Mid-Valley, “hopefully yearly.”

Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company is looking to perform at the Mid-Valley next spring, marketing director Tori Duhaime said.

Jon Miles, vice president of marketing and PR for Utah Symphony | Utah Opera, said the group is “excited about the opening of this new venue. It’s a great opportunity to bring Utah Symphony and Utah Opera performances closer to residents in this part of the county.” A specific performance schedule has not been set, though.

The new venue will have an ArtTix box office, so people who like to buy tickets for the symphony or Ballet West in person can do so without making a separate trip downtown.

Community nonprofit arts groups are going to fill the Mid-Valley’s stages more often, Yocom said. “We’ve heard from groups across the county, and they want to use this space,” she said.

“It’s pretty fantastic,” said Melanie Ewell, co-artistic director of Body Logic Dance, a Midvale-based nonprofit group that will perform for the venue’s first paying audience on June 8 and 9. (The production, “Woman,” is the troupe’s third annual humanitarian concert, with some proceeds going to YWCA Utah.)

“It excites us to be able to have a theater like that in the middle of the valley, and one that’s especially set up for the community,” Ewell said. “Downtown is nice, but it has its own community and its own vibe. So we get to create one now in the middle of the valley.”

Lynnette Owens, founder of Lyrical Opera Theater, a nonprofit arts group she runs from her home in West Jordan, called the Mid-Valley “a jewel of a theater.” Owens’ group is scheduled to perform at the venue’s ribbon-cutting on May 26, and is also scheduled to stage Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” there in September.

“We feel like we’re getting completely spoiled by this new theater. We can’t even believe that we’re so lucky to be able to perform in a theater like that,” Owens said.

Liebrecht said the center will also be a space for business meetings and community events. For example, she said, the Taylorsville Police will conduct the swearing-in ceremony for its new officers on the Main Stage in June.

And while the Mid-Valley isn’t surrounded by the restaurants and bars that define downtown Salt Lake City’s nightlife, Liebrecht noted that the new venue has something the downtown venues don’t: plenty of free parking.

Yocom said she expects a different vibe to develop around the Mid-Valley.

The city of Taylorsville is going to install an open outdoor plaza in front of the center, which will provide “more of a community feel, a family feel, reaching a different kind of audience,” Yocom said.

“It’s definitely a different avenue for the county to take, from that downtown nightlife activity to more of a family-friendly, middle-of-the-valley [environment].”

Open house for a new arts venue

The Mid-Valley Performing Arts Center will open its doors to the community for an open house.

When • Tuesday, June 1, and Thursday, June 3, from 7 to 9 p.m.; and Saturday, June 5, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Where • 2525 W. Taylorsville Road (5400 South), Taylorsville.

Admission • Free.

Performers • The Brazilian drum corps Samba Fogo and representatives from the Taylorsville Arts Council are scheduled to perform June 1; the hip-hop nonprofit 1520 Arts and the Indian dance group Chitrakaavya Dance are scheduled to perform June 3; and all four groups are scheduled to perform June 5.