Up Next: The ‘Crown Jewel’ of Performing Arts Venues

Utahns love their theater and regularly sell out performances of traveling Broadway hits and local musicals and plays.

It’s only natural there’s a buzz about what Helen Langan, director of communications for Mayor Ralph Becker, calls the “crown jewel” of Utah performing arts venues–a 2,500-seat and $116 million state-of-the-art theater. The Utah Performing Arts Center, expected to open in the spring of 2016, will host first-run national Broadway productions, family shows, major concerts and comedy acts.

Located at 135 S. Main St., the theater is being designed by the team of world-renowned architects Pelli Clarke Pelli of New Haven, Conn. and HKS Architects in Salt Lake City. The six-story theater is integrated with the design of the adjacent 24-story 111 Main Office Tower being constructed by Hamilton Partners. Demolition of the buildings located at 115, 125, 127 and 135 South Main will begin in January to make way for construction of the venue and the office tower.

“We are very excited about how the Performing Arts Center (UPAC) will activate this block of Main Street,” says Langan. “It will help advance Mayor Becker’s livability agenda around arts and culture and give folks another reason to make their way through downtown.”

The Performing Arts Center team spent nine months gathering public input on the wish list for the theater and the surrounding area and collecting more than 1,000 comments and ideas to enhance the UPAC design and add to the transformation of downtown Salt Lake City. The result: a design that makes reference to the historical buildings of downtown while adding new energy and light to Main Street. The design also creates a variety of new public spaces and transforms both the Main and Regent streetscape with cafes and retail shops. Open-air and partially-covered walkways north and south of the UPAC will provide new pedestrian access between Main Street and Regent Street, which serves as a second primary entrance to the theater. As Pelli Clarke Pelli architect Mitch Hirsch likes to say, “There is no front and back to this theater–but rather two grand facades.”

Construction of the project will create an estimated 1,650 jobs and generate about $200 million in county-wide economic impact. Once open, the UPAC is expected to create about 115 direct and indirect jobs and generate more than $9 million in annual revenue. City and county leaders expect the UPAC will elevate Salt Lake City’s quality of life, making the city center more attractive to potential employers, and contribute to downtown revitalization by driving traffic to existing businesses and entertainment venues.

“The Utah Performing Arts Center will be another reason to live, work and play in downtown,” Langan adds.

Across the nation, arts and culture serve as a major attraction for business and a catalyst for economic growth. Arts also create their own economy. In Salt Lake City alone, there are approximately 9,000 jobs at roughly 800 arts-related organizations and businesses. More than 800,000 people currently attend downtown arts events annually, and for the sixth year in a row, Salt Lake City was been recognized as one of the top 25 travel destinations of the arts in the mid-size city category.

A market analysis conducted by AMS Market Research from New York projected the UPAC’s annual attendance at more than 239,000 and concluded the UPAC and other planned improvements to existing venues in the city present an opportunity for expanded, improved and more diverse community entertainment.

Downtown Alliance Executive Director Jason Mathis believes the UPAC will attract new patrons and audiences to live performances in Utah’s urban center. Still, he notes, “It’s important that we continue to make good decisions about how the center is programmed and promoted to make sure it also helps build audiences for other Utah performing arts organizations.”

Helen Langan agrees. “Our goal is to continue and build upon a legacy of supporting artists and developing arts patrons,” she says. “We need to provide extraordinary arts and entertainment experiences that attract new visitors and expand options for the entire region.”

The UPAC, which is co-owned by Salt Lake County and Salt Lake City, will be built with existing tax revenues (no new taxes) and operated by the Salt Lake County Center for the Arts (CFA) within its system of theaters that include Capitol Theatre, Abravanel Hall and the Rose Wagner Theater. In addition to securing solid, professional and cost-effective management services, Langan says this arrangement ensures that the theater is operated in a way that ensures a healthy environment for other venues and the local arts community. The CFA will operate the four downtown venues in cooperation with each other, managing all performance calendars, maximizing show dates and ensuring that the right show goes in the right venue.

And once constructed, the UPAC will put Salt Lake City on the A-list for first-run traveling Broadway shows–something Salt Lake City hasn’t enjoyed in the past. Langan says studies show that art begets art and more exposure to the performing arts encourages audience development for all of the arts.

“We’ve found that people who attend a touring Broadway show one year are more likely to buy symphony tickets the next year,” she notes. “And a strong community of arts and culture means a stronger community all around.”

For more about the Utah Performing Arts Center, visitwww.newperformingartscenter.org.