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Performing Arts Center closer to reality

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SALT LAKE CITY — Curtains literally were pulled back Wednesday to celebrate the selection of the architectural and contracting teams for the future Utah Performing Arts Center.

"This is a milestone moment for Salt Lake City and performing arts for the broader region," Mayor Ralph Becker told members of the arts community, business leaders and media gathered on the sidewalk outside the theater's future home on Main Street.

HKS Architects and partner Pelli Clarke Pelli were selected along with Layton Construction to design and build the 2,500-seat theater capable of hosting first-run touring Broadway shows.

The announcement was a production in itself, featuring a series of speeches by city leaders and project partners, as well as a street-side rendition of "The Wizard and I." The song was performed by actress Carla Stickler, who plays Elphaba in the touring musical "Wicked," running through Aug. 26 at Capitol Theatre.

Posters featuring the logos and work of HKS, Pelli Clarke Pelli and Layton Construction were draped with black curtains until the winners were announced, adding to the theatrical atmosphere of the occasion.

This is a milestone moment for Salt Lake City and performing arts for the broader region.

–Mayor Ralph Becker

It was similar to the October 2008 announcement that the theater would be built on the east side of Main Street, between 100 South and 200 South. For that event, a red carpet led people through a curtained entryway into the former Newspaper Agency Corp. building, which was decorated with posters from popular Broadway shows.

"This is a momentous day for us in Salt Lake City," Becker said at the time, promising that the performing arts center would be "an asset that is unparalleled in our region."

On Wednesday, architects and city leaders pledged to create "an iconic structure" that will add to the diversity of construction in a city whose landmarks include the Salt Lake Temple.

"This will be something this community is proud of," said David Layton, president and CEO of Layton Construction.


Becker has been working since taking office in January 2008 to bring a performing arts center to downtown. The project has gradually moved forward over the past 4½ years, surviving an initial challenge from Sandy to be home to such a theater, along with roadblocks created by the economic downturn.

Becker said getting to the point of announcing architectural teams and a contractor for the project has been one of the most challenging endeavors of his time in office. Some have opposed the project, worrying that it would harm local arts organizations.

"We expect that this theater will be another representation of this community coming together, of this community achieving heights that only could have been dreamed of a few years ago," he said.

Wednesday's announcement came less that 24 hours after the Salt Lake County Council voted to partner with the city on the $110 million project.

City leaders had been collectively crossing their fingers in the hopes that the county would agree to contribute roughly $28.2 million to the project and operate the new theater.

"We are standing in Utah's downtown," Salt Lake City Councilman Kyle LaMalfa said. "We recognize that partnerships like the one with Salt Lake County are absolutely necessary and welcome in making Salt Lake City everyone's place."

Public investment is something no one here takes lightly. We will work with the public and arts organizations to integrate the theater into our community's fabric. The programming and architecture of this theater will represent Utah.

–Kyle LaMalfa

The Redevelopment Agency of Salt Lake City has yet to acquire the property for the theater. The RDA has been in exclusive negotiations with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to acquire the property since October 2008. Both sides have said they're optimistic the deal will get done.

Layton and HKS both are Utah-based companies. The two have worked together on several projects along the Wasatch Front over the past 12 years, said Mike Vela, HKS associate principal.

Design of the project is expected to take about a year, said D.J. Baxter, executive director of the city's RDA. A preliminary timeline has construction getting under way in December 2013 and the opening of the theater in March 2016.

Architectural and design teams plan to hold at least three public open houses in September to gather information from potential users of the performing arts center. Specific dates at times for those meetings have not been announced.

"Public investment is something no one here takes lightly," LaMalfa said. "We will work with the public and arts organizations to integrate the theater into our community's fabric. The programming and architecture of this theater will represent Utah."

Vela said HKS has "no preconceived notions" about what the theater will look like. The design will evolve, he said, as the architects get feedback from the public and arts community.

"We as architects are like craftsmen who are building a violin," Vela said, "but the users are the ones who are playing the violin. We are going to be engaging all of the people who use this facility in its design."


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