In a 5 to 2 vote, the Salt Lake City Council approved the write-down giveaway of the Utah Theater to the developers who plan to demolish it.
Thank you to Ana Valdemoros and Andrew Johnston for listening to your constituents and questioning the value of this mayoral backroom deal.
A Grand Movie Theater for Utah
The Utah Theater, formerly known as Pantages, and the Orpheum theater, is the last “grand palace” movie theater in Salt Lake City. It was purchased by Salt Lake City in 2008 for the express purpose of restoration and a home for non-profit film and media groups. Since then, in spite of a complete Salt Lake County rehabilitation plan, the theater has languished without city leadership to execute. Now, the Salt Lake City Redevelopment Agency and mayor are pushing the City Council to demolish the theater and replace it with a multi-use tower containing 270 luxury condominiums.
Why are you doing this?
The Utah Theater has not been given a fair shake with the public having a full and informed say. Instead, the RDA is wrongly asserting that there are already too many theaters in Salt Lake City, and this one is too expensive to rehabilitate.
Are there too many theaters?
Salt Lake City has numerous stage theaters, but no grand movie theaters (1000+ seats). Look at what has been lost. In addition, the stage theaters of this size are consistently booked and not lacking for audience. Smaller promoters have asserted that there is low availability for 1000 seat concerts and lectures.
What about the cost?
The RDA saw fit to demolish three architecturally contributing buildings on Main Street and build the Eccles Theater, without voter consent, for 180 million dollars. The cost to rehabilitate the Utah Theater is estimated to be a third of that. This can be financed not only by Salt Lake City, but the county and the state of Utah, in addition with supporting donors. Moreover, if the theater is placed on the National Register for Historic Places, it can receive up to 20% of the cost of restoration in tax credits.
Unlike the Eccles Theater, there should be a vote to fund Salt Lake City’s portion before the Utah Theater is doomed for destruction. Mayor Biskupski decided all alone that there was no public will for this kind of vote. Usually, that is decided by a ballot.
The county in cooperation with the city came up with a plan in 2014 that showed basic rehabilitation of the theater at $35M. Tacoma and Minneapolis have Pantages theaters with identical interiors to the Utah Theater. Tacoma restored their theater in 2018 with seismic upgrades, plaster rehabilitation, entirely new seats, and paint removal/restoration for $24.5M. In addition, Tacoma Pantages is surrounded by an early department store, making seismic upgrades much more difficult. Minneapolis restored their Pantages in 2002 for $8M without any seismic upgrades.
The RDA and the mayor’s office have asserted they have done multiple plans and exhausted every financial avenue. Where are these plans and why do they differ by $20M-$35M from actual recent restorations? If they have exhausted all options, why was an RFP (Request for Proposals) not done so other interested parties could come forward?
LaSalle Restaurant Group has been given a four-year exclusive (half of the near decade that the city has owned the theater) to work this out, originally putting their foot in the door by stating they would be restoring the theater. Why haven’t any other developers been given the same opportunity? Is LaSalle more educated than the rest of us?
What about parking?
The Eccles Theater was built without any extra parking spaces, instead relying on existing garages and street parking nearby. Either Salt Lake City embraces clean air and mass transit to downtown attractions or it builds parking garages for every building. The future is the former.
Does Salt Lake City need a 70mm capable movie theater?
Yes. The nearest one is in Boise, Idaho. A number of films, like Christopher Nolan’s and Quentin Tarantino’s releases have seen 70mm prints. “2001: A Space Odyssey” was rereleased for the 50th anniversary in 2019 with a 70mm print. The last 70mm film to play in Salt Lake City was a rereleased “Lawrence of Arabia” in the late 1980’s. Every showing was packed to the point that couples who arrived late were split up because there weren’t enough seats together to accommodate them. This year, Sundance Film Festival had a 70mm print of “Apollo 11” that could not be shown in Salt Lake City, because there is no 70mm projection house available.
Does Salt Lake City need another “glass-wall” office tower with scraps of a once great theater decorating its lobby?
No. This, however, is what the Salt Lake City RDA and mayor believes Salt Lake City needs.
What have other cities done?
Pantages was originally a chain of theaters around the country. Tacoma and Minneapolis have identical designs to Salt Lake City’s Pantages theater. They have restored them to great acclaim and community response. Salt Lake City should not throw away this opportunity.
What can I do?
WRITE AND CALL YOUR COUNCIL MEMBER and let them know you support restoring the Utah Theater and would like to see this turn into an open process with RFPs (requests for proposals). This topic will be for discussion at an upcoming RDA meeting in December at the City & County Building, 451 S. State Street, room 326. Follow this effort on Facebook and Twitter for updates. Sign the petition and spread the word!