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Show over: Demolition begins after judge rejects order over century-old Salt Lake theater

Salt Lake police guarding the perimeter of the Utah Pantages Theater watch as demolition crews knock down an old parking garage next to the theater Tuesday morning. The demolition began a day after a judge struck down a temporary restraining order to protect the theater.

Salt Lake police guarding the perimeter of the Utah Pantages Theater watch as demolition crews knock down an old parking garage next to the theater Tuesday morning. The demolition began a day after a judge struck down a temporary restraining order to protect the theater. (Carter Williams, KSL.com)


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SALT LAKE CITY — Michael Valentine and a handful of other supporters of the Utah Pantages Theater stood quietly as they watched from afar an excavator deliver the first blow to a century-old parking garage next to the downtown Salt Lake City theater Tuesday morning.

The few strikes sent brick tumbling to the ground as dust rose from the structure. Once crews are done with this parking garage, they will focus on the theater itself, meaning the curtains are set to close on the Utah Pantages Theater.

A 3rd District judge on Monday ruled against an injunction that would delay the demolition of the century-old theater on Main Street, though he did not make a final ruling in a lawsuit over the deal between the Redevelopment Agency of Salt Lake City and a development company made in 2019.

A group seeking to save the theater, co-led by Valentine, filed an emergency stay in the Utah Supreme Court Tuesday morning but posted online Tuesday evening that they needed $25,000 to cover legal fees for the ongoing legal fight, about $15,000 more than has been previously donated.

Judge Robert Faust handed down his ruling after listening to more than an hour of oral arguments from a lawyer representing Friends of the Utah Pantages Theater, a group opposed to the demolition of the theater, and attorneys representing Salt Lake City and Hines, the parent company of the building's current owner, Main Street Tower Owner LLC.

"Respectively, I just find that the plaintiffs have no standing at this point in time," he said. "I don't see how they, personally, are going to have irreparable harm. Yes, there is an issue with the irreparability of the structure and the building … but I don't see that as irreparable harm to them."

Faust added that with no allegations of fraud against either the Salt Lake City RDA or Hines, there's no basis for a temporary restraining order to prevent the demolition of the building.

A detailed ruling in the case may be issued at a later time, depending on an appeal to the decision made Monday. The ruling against an injunction came days after Hines received the permits it needed from Salt Lake City to begin knocking down the theater.

Attorney Bruce Baird, who represents Hines and Main Street Tower Owner, first filed a notice of his client's intent to demolish the theater beginning Tuesday, writing that Main Street Tower Owner had always intended on demolishing the theater as soon as it had permits to do so. The permits were obtained last week "earlier than expected."

Valentine disagrees with the court's decision.

"I think he made the wrong ruling," he told KSL.com. "We have legal standing because this is a public building managed by a public entity. The RDA and the city are legally required to follow state law as well as their own city ordinance."

The declaration also caught the plaintiffs off guard because Hines had asked the court to move a hearing on the temporary restraining order back to May 2. The stay submitted to the court argues they weren't given enough time to prepare for Monday's hearing.

It's unclear if a stay regarding the theater will impact the timeline of demolition. During a hearing Monday afternoon, Baird argued any delay in the process would cost Hines tens of thousands of dollars every day. Faust determined that it would cost $80,000 per day based on testimony provided by Dusty Harris, the senior managing director of Hines.

Harris told the court that the costs are the result of debt costs, capitalization rates, inflation and the cost of contractors who are on-site and ready to go being delayed. Those delay costs have not happened yet because it was still waiting on the city to complete its demolition permit process.

The historic Utah Theater on Main Street in Salt Lake City, Utah on Oct., 23, 2010. The Redevelopment Agency of Salt Lake owned the building up until last year, when its $0 deal with Hines was finalized.
The historic Utah Theater on Main Street in Salt Lake City, Utah on Oct., 23, 2010. The Redevelopment Agency of Salt Lake owned the building up until last year, when its $0 deal with Hines was finalized. (Photo: Mike Terry, Deseret News)

Hines acquired the Pantages Theater in a $0 deal approved by Salt Lake City leaders in 2019 after the city originally listed its price at $4 million. It plans to construct a 31-story high-rise in the building's place. A contractor filed permits to tear down the building on behalf of Main Street Tower Owner back in January.

A new lawsuit seeking to stop the demolition of the theater and void the 2019 deal was originally filed in February. It argues the city violated Utah preservation laws in its process of handing over the building for demolition. Faust previously dismissed Salt Lake City Corporation from the lawsuit in a ruling that allowed the city to continue reviewing the demolition permits.

Valentine argues the Community Preservation Plan passed in 2012 and "was not followed at all," which he believes the Utah Pantages Theater was grandfathered into. The group also sued Salt Lake City last year over an attempt to put the city's deal with Hines on the ballot for residents to decide on.

Michael Valentine records on his phone as crews begin demolition of an old parking garage next to the Utah Pantages Theater Tuesday morning. The demolition began a day after a judge struck down a temporary restraining order to protect the theater.
Michael Valentine records on his phone as crews begin demolition of an old parking garage next to the Utah Pantages Theater Tuesday morning. The demolition began a day after a judge struck down a temporary restraining order to protect the theater. (Photo: Carter Williams, KSL.com)

He plans to continue forward as far as he can even if the Utah Pantages Theater is demolished. He believes that what happened to the theater may set the groundwork for future historic buildings, which he describes as the "soul" of the city.

"I think they're trying to rush this through and we need the time to really examine these laws," he said, peering out toward the theater. "If we end up losing this theater, we need to learn from it ... and have stricter preservation laws."

Salt Lake City attorney Katherine Nichols contends that no state or city preservation laws were broken because there was no official recommendation for the theater to be placed on a historic preservation list at the time of the 2019 deal.

She also reiterated Monday that the $4 million discount will be paid back with "consideration in kind in the form of public benefits." Hines will set aside 30 affordable housing units and a new public walkway by Main Street, as a part of its deal with the city.

Meanwhile, the development company is looking forward to the future of the theater site now that it has started demolition. In a statement to KSL.com, Hines said that the project will benefit Salt Lake City through new housing and other downtown uses.

"This specific project has undergone extensive community (processes)," he said. "Once completed, it will provide significant public benefits, including much-needed affordable housing; a family-friendly park that can host outdoor film, theater and live music; public art installations; a mid-block connection; and preservation to honor the theater's legacy."

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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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