Salt Lake County wants to keep Abravanel Hall as is. Here's how much renovations could cost


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SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson said last week that she wants to keep 45-year-old Abravanel Hall in its "present form" while the county, Salt Lake City and Smith Entertainment Group negotiate over a proposed "sports, entertainment, cultural and convention district" surrounding a revamped Delta Center.

However, getting there could cost $199.4 million to $216.5 million, depending on the upgrades Salt Lake County is willing to pursue, according to a new county assessment of the building's renovation needs.

The assessment is included in a Maurice Abravanel Hall Master Plan update. Documents and figures were posted on the county's website before the Salt Lake County Council meeting on Tuesday. The council is slated to receive a presentation about the update during the meeting.

Per the documents, county officials say there are some "significant design and building systems challenges" in its present form. The county approved funding for a master plan update last year, hiring Sparano + Mooney Architecture to help Salt Lake County Arts & Culture Division and other county divisions on the project.

The groups collected feedback from Utah Symphony staff members and musicians, neighboring businesses and the concert hall's "regular and potential users" and found there were several needed and recommended improvements to the building.

"(The) venue is outdated and needs significant renovations and upgrades to meet the needs of modern and future performers and patrons, including accessibility, key facility systems and technology," the team wrote within its key findings.

The documents include projects likely needed to improve the venue's building systems, performance hall, front-of-house, back-of-house and site/plaza.

A list of projects recommended to enhance Abravanel Hall included in a presentation that will be delivered to the Salt Lake County Council on Tuesday.
A list of projects recommended to enhance Abravanel Hall included in a presentation that will be delivered to the Salt Lake County Council on Tuesday. (Photo: Salt Lake County Arts & Culture Division)

The differing cost estimates are based on two options the county could consider if it moves the renovation process forward. One option includes expanding the lobby toward the north plaza, while the other expands it to the east. There's an option for a third-tier event space or making an event space on the roof of the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art building as well.

Neither estimate includes potential seismic upgrades to the building.

Two Abravanel Hall renovation and upgrade options included in the 2024 Maurice Abravanel Hall Master Plan update that will be presented to the Salt Lake County Council on Tuesday.
Two Abravanel Hall renovation and upgrade options included in the 2024 Maurice Abravanel Hall Master Plan update that will be presented to the Salt Lake County Council on Tuesday. (Photo: Sparano + Mooney Architecture via Salt Lake County Arts & Culture Division)

The team also recommends that upgrades be completed "simultaneously" to "minimize disruption" for the Utah Symphony; however, its members also offered a recommended three-phase approach in case the county wants to implement the upgrades in phases. That plan focuses on building system upgrades first before performance hall improvements and then changes to the site.

There's no mention of how the upgrades could be funded. The building is eligible to be added to the National Register of Historic Places beginning in 2029, which offers federal tax incentives for the rehabilitation of historic buildings.

The plan also doesn't mention the Delta Center or the renovation of the Salt Palace Convention Center that Smith Entertainment Group recommended in its plan for downtown Salt Lake City submitted last month. That all evolved well after the master plan project started, as the company acquired and relocated the National Hockey League's Arizona Coyotes.

The team's move has sped up conversations over an entertainment district surrounding the Delta Center — home of the hockey team at the Utah Jazz — as outlined in this year's SB272. The company's proposal would keep Abravanel Hall in some form, but Wilson said on May 7 that it could be torn down and rebuilt.

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She issued a statement again last week, saying the county is now "working diligently" to keep the venue "in its present form." She added that she values "the feedback from the community" on the matter. An online petition calling for the county, city and Smith Entertainment Group to keep Abravanel Hall has now gained over 35,000 signatures since May 4.

It's unclear how the new renovation costs factor into all of the ongoing discussions.

Gov. Spencer Cox weighed in on the discussions during his monthly press briefing on Thursday. He said he was informed by the three parties that "huge renovations" were needed to preserve Abravanel Hall, but he didn't know what renovations were needed or how much it would cost at the time.

The governor called it an "iconic building," but he added he believes there's also a cost-benefit ratio where renovations may not be worth it that would have to be considered.

"There's always a moment at which the cost of the renovations versus building something better kind of cross over," he said. "That will be a decision that will be up to those decision-makers as we get closer. I look forward to getting more information before weighing in on what I think should happen."

The Salt Lake County Council's informational meeting isn't the only downtown entertainment district item on government agendas this week. The Salt Lake City Council is slated to hold a public hearing on its involvement in the process Tuesday night.

The City Council is tasked with reaching an agreement with Smith Entertainment Group by Sept. 1. It also was given authority by the state to approve up to a 0.5% sales tax increase that would fund projects in a final revitalization zone.

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Carter Williams is an award-winning reporter who covers general news, outdoors, history and sports for KSL.com.

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