24 11 2010

Progress toward making the Utah Performing Arts Center (UPAC) a reality was announced last week at the meeting of the Redevelopment Agency of Salt Lake City (RDA) board of directors meeting on November 16. Assembled to report on the project’s status were Mayor Ralph Becker , Steve Swisher and Greg Garfield from the architecture/consultant firm of Swisher Garfield Traub
and Bruce Bingham of Hamilton Partners.

UPAC development location

After Mayor Becker’s introduction, Swisher and Garfield presented their plan for the new theater and surrounding development. The UPAC would be a 145,000 sq ft building which includes a 2500-seat multi-purpose theater, costing $88 million. They also proposed annexing additional space on Regent Street to include studio, black box, rehearsal space, classrooms, offices, and storage. To the north of the UPAC, at the corner of Main and 100 South, plans call for a 450,000 sq ft 25-story hi-rise.

For the new theater, Swisher projected 10-13 weeks per year of touring Broadway shows with the symphony, opera and ballet each using one week per year. The operating model predicted a profit from operations most years, depending on the level of activity by touring theatricals. Their timeline had one year for design development and two years for construction. That means that a new theater could open in 2014.

Site of UPAC - Newspaper Agency Building

Bruce Bingham then talked about the hi-rise office tower and when it might be built. Hamilton Partners recently opened a new building at 222 S. Main, which is currently 60% occupied. Bingham said that present downtown vacancy rates would have to decrease before the UPAC hi-rise project could be financed. The construction of the hi-rise does need to start when the UPAC construction starts, but their designs and configuration will be symbiotic, with some public space and infrastructure being shared.

Members of the RDA had questions about selling theater naming rights, bonding to finance construction and common truck loading docks, but were generally supportive of the project. The Salt Lake Tribune ran a story covering the meeting: New office high-rise proposed for Salt Lake City.

In addition to the RDA session, Mayor Becker held a meeting in late October for members of the arts community to update them on this project. Elisabeth Nebeker, marketing director for Broadway Across America-Utah attended and gave me her comments on this assembly:

Mayor Becker continues to forge ahead with the downtown Performing Arts Center per a meeting on Tuesday with friends and stakeholders in the Arts. Although final results will be out in a few weeks, Mayor Becker revealed preliminary findings for a 2,500 seat theatre with 160-198 performances a year that will complement existing facilities and improve arts opportunities.

Becker’s Advisor Helen Langan, shared the City and County Mayor’s joint support of $9.8 million dollars over 20 years in sales tax revenue to support the performing Arts Center.

The City’s support of a new, performing arts venue comes from market research starting with the Salt Lake Chamber’s 2nd Century Plan in the 1960’s which identified 10 signature projects with a theatre being one of them. Additional studies that have recognized a larger arts venue as an important part of downtown include the 1988 SL Regional Urban Design study, SLC County Study in 1990, RDA Feasibility study; and in 2007 as part of eight projects of Downtown Rising.

In 2008, Mayor Becker created the Theatre Action Group to take the vision and move it forward. The group located a preferred site at 135 South Main Street (Former Newspaper Agency Building) for the Performing Arts Center.

Many questions still to be answered including who will run the facility? Where with the money come from? Are there enough shows to fill the schedule?

Utah Theater on Main Street

To help move the conversation ahead Steven Wolff, AMS Planning & research for the Arts and Entertainment Industries, has been brought in to conduct sessions with arts groups, business and community members to meet every other week for 10-12 weeks. It will require a regular commitment for participants and details for involvement will be coming soon. The goal is to create a shared vision of an active and vital community by addressing programming/content, physical spaces, resources – leadership, technical, artists, and partnerships. Findings will be shared with the City and County Mayor.

Coming on the heels of Ballet West announcing plans for their rehearsal facility next to the Capitol Theatre and the late October Utah Heritage Foundation tour of the Utah Theatre which the RDA purchased for a possible renovation into a movie house for local film organizations you have to wonder if we have the resources to make it a reality.

It is fun to envision a bustling downtown with street musicians, filmgoers, ballet, symphony, opera and Broadway patrons enjoying the fine restaurants and bars with the backdrop of City Creek.




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