Salt Lake City relinquishes century-old Utah Pantages Theater; building slated to be torn down

The Utah Theater is pictured in Salt Lake City on Dec. 3, 2019. Salt Lake City, which purchased the building in 2010, finalized its agreement to hand it over to a development agency that plans to tear the building down.

The Utah Theater is pictured in Salt Lake City on Dec. 3, 2019. Salt Lake City, which purchased the building in 2010, finalized its agreement to hand it over to a development agency that plans to tear the building down. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)



Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — The stage is now set for the century-old Utah Pantages Theater to be demolished to make room for downtown Salt Lake City's newest high-rise, despite attempts by outside groups calling for the building to be preserved.

The Redevelopment Agency of Salt Lake City on Wednesday closed on the conveyance of the Main Street building to the Texas-based global development company Hines. The transaction is viewed as the city's final step in the process of transferring ownership; city officials said Friday that Hines can now move forward with preparing the site for construction of the new "150 Main" building.

Salt Lake City and its RDA had owned the property for the past decade. In December 2019, they reached an agreement with Hines, handing the property off to the developer at no additional cost. By then it was already revealed that the company wanted to build a 30-story, 300-apartment building in its place.

The details of the building continue to be hammered out but city officials said Friday the current plan still calls for a $100 million mixed-use building with 10% of the tower's apartments designated as affordable housing for residents making about 60% to 80% of the county's median income.

"The closing of the sale represents a significant milestone in the redevelopment of this property and allows us to now focus our attention on the benefits that this project will provide. Particularly, the inclusion of open space and affordable units that will provide the opportunity for the public and new residents to live, work and play downtown," said Danny Walz, the director of the city's RDA, in a statement.

Wednesday's transaction marks a possible final step in what has been a contentious few years in determining the building's fate, although city officials didn't list a timeframe for when the theater may be torn down.

The original construction of the theater began in 1918 and it opened in 1920. It was, among other things, one of the first buildings in the nation to feature an air conditioning system. It was then split into two theaters in the 1960s during renovations back then.

City officials said the building has been vacant since 1992; they argued it has been in need of "substantial" rehabilitation since that time. The city's redevelopment agency acquired the property in 2010. Per the agency, the point of the purchase was to "activate Main Street" with the property, whether by knocking down it or renovating it. The agency has since estimated it would cost $40 to $80 million dollars to renovate the building as is, thus it was sold off.

"As the capital city of the fastest-growing state in the nation, Salt Lake City is in the midst of incredible growth and change. We need more housing, increased access to affordable housing, and more green space in our urban areas," said Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall, in a statement Friday. "While it is unfortunate that under previous ownership the theater experienced decades of intentional and unintentional degradation, it's heartening that the forthcoming 150 Main development will bring with it so many of our city's current needs into the heart of our downtown."

Groups like Preservation Utah and Save the Utah Pantages Theater have argued against the 2019 sale and fought for the building to be preserved.

The former states that it had been involved with trying to preserve the theater for about two decades; the latter of the two attempted to get a question about the sale added to the city's ballot this year and then sued the city after the initiative was denied. A 3rd District Court judge tossed out that lawsuit on Sept. 23 — although the decision has since been appealed, according to court records.

The group Save the Utah Pantages Theater also has questioned the city's rehabilitation estimate because a similar theater in Tacoma, Washington, was rehabilitated at less than $20 million. Its organizers nominated the theater to be put on the National Register of Historic Places in September. If the building is listed, it doesn't prevent the building from being torn down but would allow its owners to qualify for tax credits covering a portion of the cost to rehabilitate it.

Following Wednesday's conveyance, the group's organizers said in several social media posts they aren't done fighting to save the building.

"I'm not going anywhere. (Casey McDonough) is not going anywhere. (David Berg) is not going anywhere," the group's go-organizer, Michael Valentine, wrote in a social media post Friday. "Our international Pantages Family is in this for the long haul. ... It took 12 years to save and restore the Ogden Egyptian in the 1980s. I've been here for two so if it takes me another decade, so be it.

"The only way any of this is ever over is when the Pantages is safe, protected, restored and firmly in the hands of the people," the post continued. "Until then, you shall see no rest from me."

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