When an $8 million renovation of the Gallivan Center moved Salt Lake City’s Twilight Concert Series to Pioneer Park in 2010, no one knew at the time if the music would return there for another season.
Seven years later, that same question is being asked again, though for very different reasons this time.
When hip-hop and jazz collective The Roots wrap up Thursday night, it will close the door on Twilight’s 30th season. As for whether it closes the door on Twilight in a bigger-picture sense, well, that’s to be determined.
With the independent nonprofit Salt Lake City Arts Council, which oversees the series, acknowledging in a Jan. 3 City Council work session that the series is running six figures in the red annually, some council members expressed concern about its viability going forward, noting that budget overruns had continued despite three years of recurring requests for additional funding.
As a result, there is no funding for next year’s Twilight in the city’s budget at the moment.
Stan Penfold, chairman of the City Council, said he hopes to get clarification and resolution about the concert series within the coming months.
“I know there are City Council members who are upset because it’s required additional money over the years and they don’t know what it’s accomplishing,” Penfold told The Salt Lake Tribune on Wednesday. “So we’re prepared to bring up all sorts of possibilities.”
While Twilight started out as a small venture, it had become a behemoth by its first season in Pioneer Park. That year’s eight-week lineup of free shows doubled in size from the year before to more than 30,000 attendees on average, with alt-rock band Modest Mouse drawing a crowd of more than 40,000 itself.
Back then, the series’ economic impact on surrounding businesses was cited as a boon for keeping the event there, with Scott Beck, then-president and CEO of the Salt Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau, comparing Twilight’s impact to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ $1.5 billion City Creek Center, which straddles Main Street downtown.
“This will be as transformational as that is for this side of town,” Beck said.
That hasn’t been the case as the years have gone on.
In that January work session, after the Arts Council made a request that an additional $200,000 be added to its annual Twilight budget, Penfold suggested that the group gather hard data corroborating its claim that the concert series is in fact the best way to spur economic development for the city related to those in the 20-to-40 age demographic the concerts target.
Penfold added Wednesday that, as there hasn’t been a follow-up meeting between the two sides, those issues linger in the minds of some City Council members.
“One of the big issues we haven’t really had a good conversation about — really since I’ve been here — is who Twilight brings to downtown,” he said. “Part of that conversation is, ‘What’s our goal? Get people downtown? Have a diverse population? Or is it only for entertainment?’”
Arts Council members said in January that myriad options have been considered to address the now-annual shortfalls, including raising ticket prices, reducing the number of shows, changing venues, booking cheaper performers, even shelving the series for a year to re-evaluate all possibilities.
Multiple requests for comment Wednesday, both to the Arts Council and the city’s Department of Economic Development, which oversees it, were not answered.
Penfold did acknowledge that continuing to host the shows at their current venue has become problematic, “given that you have to set it all up, tear it all down and set it back up again at Pioneer Park, which is expensive.”
He said that, for now, he’s waiting to hear from the Arts Council once it’s finished its analysis of this year’s series, and that he will look to get a meeting on the books for October to discuss the future.
“Basically, as soon as the administration is ready, we’re going to schedule something,” he said.