Salt Lake City mayor agrees to sell Utah Theater to developers seeking a new skyscraper, ending bid to save the historic, badly damaged structure

Elected leaders in Salt Lake City will discuss a sales price for the Utah Theater on Tuesday, after the city quietly inked a deal last week with developers hoping to dismantle the 100-year-old Main Street venue and build a skyscraper in its place.

Mayor Jackie Biskupski’s chief of staff, Patrick Leary, signed a formal sales agreement Thursday with global real estate firm Hines and Utah-based developer LaSalle, the mayor’s spokesman Matthew Rojas and others confirmed Monday.

The mayor is now pushing to discount the entire price of selling the property, valued in June at $4.07 million — in exchange for major concessions from the developers, including a sizable share of affordable housing in the proposed new tower.

News of the sales agreement appears to abruptly short-circuit a burgeoning online campaign to save Utah Theater, known to generations of area residents as a downtown movie house.

Biskupski’s go-ahead on the sale came after years of talks and several government-backed studies aimed at finding ways to restore the badly dilapidated performance venue. And while they’ve openly struggled in several meetings over prospect of losing the ornate and venerable hall, members of the City Council have balked at the latest price tag of $60 million or more to repair its decaying interior, retrofit it against earthquakes and return the building to a useful life.

(Renderings courtesy of Salt Lake City Redevelopment Agency) Faced with prohibitive costs of completely renovating Utah Theater, city officials are now considering a proposal to redevelop the Main Street site with a mixed-use skyscraper at least 30 stories high, with affordable housing, a public green space, parking structure and reuse of key elements from the history theater.

Hines and LaSalle have proposed building a 375-foot tower at the site, with retail outlets, up to 300 apartments, a mid-block walkway and a small park. Their initial plans also include saving and reusing historic elements from the theater, including its bricks, an original signboard, an atrium ceiling skylight, and some of its neoclassical plaster sculptures.

In clinching the Nov. 7 sales agreement, Biskupski acted under her legal authority to dispose of city property, Rojas said, after a late September approval by the City Council, in its role overseeing the city’s Redevelopment Agency, agreeing to further negotiations with the developers.

Rojas said the mayor, who steps down in early January, is adamant about not leaving the lingering quandary of what to do with the aging theater to her successor, mayor-elect and City Councilwoman Erin Mendenhall.

“This has been a long, drawn-out process,” Rojas said. “And at this point, the mayor’s thinking is, ‘Look, I inherited this problem. I’m not leaving it for the next person.’ “

Mendenhall, elected last week to replace Biskupski, did not respond Monday to a request to comment.

Word of the city’s sales agreement with Hines and LaSalle left some backers of preserving the theater surprised and heartbroken, including organizers of a recent online campaign to save the theater built in 1919.

Several of them criticized what they see as a lack of transparency.

“Even with the public only being made aware of the current proposed development and possible demolition of the Utah Theater in late August, just over two months ago, she [Biskupski] seems to have concluded that all the input she has received in that short time about saving the theater doesn’t matter,” Salt Lake City resident and architectural consultant Casey O’Brien McDonough wrote Monday in an email circulated among theater supporters.

Rojas said the city has consulted in recent years with scores of stakeholders, arts and other groups, and even potential financial backers before concluding that saving the theater wasn’t viable. Biskupski herself favored the idea of restoring the building for use as a film center, her spokesman said, “but it just didn’t work.”

The city’s sales agreement now allows the developers, which both own property adjacent to the theater, to negotiate a discount on buying the 0.89-acre site at 144-158 S. Main, which the city purchased in 2010.

Under the mayor’s proposal, even writing down all $4.07 million of the theater property’s estimated price would only cover some of the concessions sought from Hines and LaSalle, RDA documents indicate.

By those estimates, developers would contribute between $1.68 million and $2.91 million of their own money toward public benefits from the skyscraper.

Including 30 affordable apartments in the proposed tower — at least 10% of the tower’s total housing — and making those units accessible for 50 years to residents earning between 60% and 80% of the city’s average incomes would cost the developers $4.176 million, that analysis suggests.

Cutting the 14-foot wide mid-block walkway to connect Main Street with the inner section of that downtown block would cost up to $1.8 million and saving historic elements from the theater, another $1 million, analysts for the City Council have concluded.

Members of the City Council, acting as city’s RDA Board, are scheduled to discuss the details of the sale discount Tuesday at a meeting at City Hall, starting at noon.