SALT LAKE CITY — Cesar Pelli says it was more than hard work that went into the design of Salt Lake City's new Performing Arts Center, which was unveiled for the first time Wednesday.
"We have been working with our hearts on this project," the architect said. "We love what we have done."
Pelli was "a bit overcome" with emotion as he and his colleagues at Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects revealed the design for the 2,500-seat downtown arts center, which will sit between 100 South and 200 South on Main Street with access from both Main Street and Regent Street.
Mayor Ralph Becker helped introduce the design on what he heralded as a "great day of celebration" for Salt Lake City.
"Today we are reaching a major milestone in building on a long-term vision in creating a more vibrant city — a city that is rich in the arts, a city that exudes economic vitality and a downtown that attracts new visitors and residents from throughout the region and expands our cultural audiences," Becker said.
Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams said the county is excited to partner with the city in the venture and in expanding the range of what is available to Utahns. The new theater, he said, will compliment City Creek Center as well as the Capitol Theatre, Abravanel Hall and Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center.
"The new Performing Arts Center will give us the chance to further expand the reach of arts, culture and entertainment in this region," McAdams said. "Our existing buildings are bursting at the seams. We turn away many events each year because we have no dates to give them.
"Building the new Performing Arts Center will allow us to bring more of what we all love — more musicals, more concerts, more comedians, more family entertainment to Salt Lake and our regional audiences."
The $116 million project has been five years in the making but was really recommended by city and community leaders in a "second century plan" in 1962, according to Becker. The recommendation was reiterated in the 1990s, but he said it was important to determine through meetings with the public if it was a feasible, and necessary, addition to the city.
Building the new Performing Arts Center will allow us to bring more of what we all love — more musicals, more concerts, more comedians, more family entertainment to Salt Lake and our regional audiences.
–- Ben McAdams, Salt Lake County Mayor
"There were concerns, very legitimate concerns," Becker said. "They didn't want to see existing arts organizations adversely affected. People were concerned about taking money away from those organizations and sucking existing revenues away. Everything we've done is to meet those responsibilities, so that this is a performing arts venue that supports and adds to existing arts organizations and uses existing tax dollars so we're not adding to anybody's taxes for the theater. Then it adds to the economic vitality of an increasingly vibrant downtown."
It is hoped that the theater will add to the area economy, as it is projected to add 115 permanent jobs as well as 1,650 jobs during construction while generating $200 million during construction and $9 million every year after it opens.
The project will be funded primarily through existing tax revenues, he said, with private contributions accounting for 20 percent of funds. He announced Wednesday that the Larry H. and Gail Miller Foundation has donated $2 million and that the Millers will have a patron center named in their honor.
In accepting the "first ticket" to the center, Gail Miller said she may soon be a downtown resident.
"We as a family are very committed to downtown," she said. "We are just grateful as a family to be able to support such great ventures."
Pelli and his colleague Mitch Hirsch said they drew upon the city's history as well as its important buildings for inspiration in the design — including the Salt Lake Temple, the state Capitol, the Salt Lake City-County Building as well as theaters that existed before.
"Those buildings remain in the memory of the people of Salt Lake City, so they have to be taken into account," Pelli said. "Memories are very important things."
But City Councilman Stan Penfold, who chairs the Redevelopment Agency of Salt Lake City, said the agency is grateful to take part in a project that will look both to the past and the future. Becker said the project will put the city on par with others around the nation and across the world with the caliber of its offerings.
Hirsch said the project came with a number of constraints, including that it be a building without two fronts and no real back. The current design allows patrons to enter from both Main Street and Regent Street.
"It's exciting in that it's a beautiful structure, but for me (just) as exciting is the way it integrates with the rest of downtown and this block and helps activate Main Street, helps activate Regent Street," Becker said. "I've kind of viewed this block between 100 South and 200 South on Main Street as a sort of hole in the doughnut of what's been happening in downtown. This serves as a catalyst for that block."
Hirsch noted, though, that the design may see changes and that the project is still in its early stages, with continued development and construction still to come. Becker said the project has already evolved in the past five years and the city and county are continuing to seek public input.
Construction will begin at the end of 2013 and be completed in 2016.
"All of this is about creating a fantastic place for performances," Pelli said. "One goes to the theater and forgets the worries of daily life and enters a different world and this is an extraordinary gift."