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Salt Lake City dropped from lawsuit involving century-old theater — sort of

People walk past the exterior of the Utah Pantages Theater entrance on Main Street in Salt Lake City on Friday, Feb. 4. The company that formally acquired the property last year filed demolition permits in January.

People walk past the exterior of the Utah Pantages Theater entrance on Main Street in Salt Lake City on Friday, Feb. 4. The company that formally acquired the property last year filed demolition permits in January. (Carter Williams, KSL.com)


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SALT LAKE CITY — A group suing to preserve the Utah Pantages Theater last week refiled a lawsuit aimed at protecting the century-old theater, dropping Salt Lake City and instead adding the building's new owner.

However, the Redevelopment Agency of Salt Lake City, which contains many of the same city leaders, is still listed as a defendant in the case.

The new filing came from advice from 3rd District Court Judge Robert Faust during a hearing for a temporary restraining order on March 8. During that hearing, Faust ruled Salt Lake City could move forward with permits to demolish the theater. He added that it would make more sense to include the building's owner if the group wanted to stop the demolition.

Salt Lake City is still reviewing the demolition permits filed by a contractor on behalf of the building owners, according to city records. The city already approved an interior nonstructural demolition permit last month, allowing demolition crews to start removing items inside the buildings that will be torn down.

The amended lawsuit was filed by leaders of the group Friends of the Utah Pantages Theater and owners of businesses who were evicted after Salt Lake City finalized its $0 sale of ownership to the development company, Hines. It includes Main Street Tower Owner, which is a branch of Hines, to the claim, as well as more background on the case.

It still asserts that a deal was struck between the RDA and Hines two months before the city announced its $0 agreement and that the demolition violates codes associated with historic preservation.

Katherine Nichols, Salt Lake City's lead attorney, questioned the lawsuit — and the timing of the lawsuit — during the March 8 hearing, saying it had "a lot of legal concerns." On top of that, she contended the $0 deal would be made up from a deal to include 30 affordable housing units and a new walkway downtown, something she called a deal "well above" the $4 million asking price in 2019.

She also argued that since the Utah State Historic Preservation Office didn't include a recommendation to put the Utah Pantages Theater on the National Register of Historic Places when the deal was made in 2019, there wasn't much of a basis for that argument.

"That's it. That's game over for the plaintiff's complaint," she said during that hearing.

Meanwhile, Baird lamented the March 8 decision that allowed the plaintiffs to amend their claim, telling the court that every day the project is delayed results in tens of thousands of dollars on top of the massive $200 million project — something he said the plaintiffs would not be able to cover.

He added that he doesn't believe there was much of a case to be made and that the plaintiffs haven't been successful in other endeavors.

"We shouldn't be here. … It's their fifth bite at the apple," he said, at the time. "The apple is over."

Michael Valentine, a leader of Friends of the Utah Pantages Theater, was not dissuaded by the March 8 ruling that allowed Salt Lake City to continue its demolition permit process.

In an email to KSL.com after the hearing, he said he believed Faust was "sympathetic" and leaning in favor of the building but needed to see more from the plaintiffs to rule in their favor.

"(We) look forward to getting a full injunction in place, as the legal arguments play out, to invalidate this backroom deal and the theater becomes fully protected and returned to the people of Utah," he said.

A hearing on the amended claim, which will likely determine the next steps in the case, is scheduled for April 20. However, representatives of Main Street Tower Owner filed a motion Tuesday to reschedule it to sometime between April 22 and April 27, citing a scheduling conflict.

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Carter Williams is an award-winning reporter who covers general news, outdoors, history and sports for KSL.com. He previously worked for the Deseret News. He is a Utah transplant by the way of Rochester, New York.

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