Abravanel Hall rehab to cost more than $200 million, new report estimates

Retrofitting the Utah Symphony’s concert hall could include updates to the acoustics and making the hall more accessible.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Abrvanel Hall is pictured on Friday, May 10, 2024. Updating the concert call could cost more than $200 million a new study finds.

Retrofitting and upgrading Maurice Abravanel Hall will cost at least $200 million, according to Salt Lake County’s master plan for the 45-year-old iconic concert hall.

That includes replacing the heating and cooling system, making the building accessible for people with disabilities, adding bathrooms and elevators, improving the acoustics and expanding the size of the lobby and backstage area.

The new master plan, made public for the first time Friday, estimates the cost of renovations to be between $199 million and $216 million, depending on which option is chosen — although neither number included needed improvements to make the building earthquake resistant, which would add an estimated 10% to the expense.

The cost of retrofitting the building will be a key consideration as city and county leaders formulate plans for a new downtown sports, entertainment and culture district and have to decide whether to renovate the existing structure or rebuild the concert hall.

For comparison, the Eccles Theater in downtown Salt Lake City cost $119 million when it was built in 2016, which is about $154 million when adjusted for inflation.

Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson said earlier this week that she wants Abravanel Hall to stay put.

“As mayor of Salt Lake County, I am working diligently on a re-imagined downtown and a district design that allows Abravanel Hall to remain in its present form,” the mayor said in a statement.

Previously, Wilson had issued a joint statement with the Utah Symphony and Smith Entertainment Group — which is bringing a National Hockey League team to the Delta Center and driving the establishment of the sports and entertainment district — saying that conversations were in the “very early stages” and that “we need to weigh all factors, including the high cost of a renovation alongside the benefits of rebuilding.”

Supporters of the hall have rallied to preserve the beloved building. An online petition to save the venue has garnered more than 34,000 signatures.

The Salt Lake County Council is scheduled to hear a presentation on the master plan — assembled by a team of architects, acoustic specialists, opera and symphony representatives and county officials — at its May 21 meeting.

The plan identifies several key areas where the building needs to be improved.

The on-stage acoustics are inconsistent for musicians, as well as for patrons in the hall, especially for those on the first and second tiers, according to the report. The backstage area is too small and outdated and needs to be upgraded to provide adequate room for performers and artists. The lobby, likewise, is undersized, limiting how patrons can circulate and not allowing room for things like concessions, merchandise and sufficient restrooms.

The heating and cooling system needs to be replaced, the report says, and the building needs to be brought into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and the fire suppression needs to be brought up to code.

The study recommends addressing all of the issues simultaneously, in order to reduce the amount of time that the Utah Symphony is displaced from the building. It also envisions better utilizing the plaza in front of the venue and putting a rooftop event space on the roof of the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, which adjoins Abravanel Hall, and reconfiguring the concession area so alcohol can be sold.

Council Member Jim Bradley, who previously said the renovations would cost between $200 million and $300 million, supports the renovation plan.

“We’ve got a beautiful hall that’s been there for 40-plus years,” Bradley said earlier this week. “It would be an absolute tragedy to tear that down.”

Council Member Aimee Winder Newton is still gathering information about the options for the venue, but said, “I think it’s great to see both arts and culture and sports coming together in a vibrant district.”