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Cover Story

Something Wicked This Way Comes Page 2

An arts district one block from Temple Square will either save Main Street or become its biggest folly yet.

By Geoff Griffin
Posted // July 29,2009 -

Wicked Economics
For Becker’s downtown vision to take hold, he must first convince the local arts community his grand idea won’t put them out of business.

“I have been sensitive from the very beginning that we need to do this in a way that serves the existing performing arts community and does not detract from their ability to function,” Becker says.

john_caywood_greg_geilm_F62.jpgBut John Caywood, Kingsbury Hall operations manager, begs to differ, arguing if Becker’s performing arts center is built, and touring Broadway shows end up there rather than at Kingsbury, his facility could lose about $400,000 per year.

“For us, that’s the difference between operating in the black and operating in the red,” he says.

Furthermore, some in the existing arts community wonder why there’s any need to improve on what has come about organically. “I take exception to the term ‘cultural district,’” says Jerry Rapier, producing director of Plan-B Theater Company. “One already exists. The Rose Wagner, Capitol Theatre and Abravanel Hall are all within a block of each other.”

Even in terms of distance, some question if a downtown arts district needs to be confined to a few city blocks. Chris Lino, managing director of Pioneer Theatre Company at the University of Utah, notes that the distance between Temple Square and Pioneer Theatre is less than the distance between the northernmost and southernmost theaters on Broadway in New York City, and is easily accessible by TRAX. “It’s 13 blocks,” he says. “We’re not talking 20 miles away.”

The question of the performing-arts center, in particular, and having the government try to help push along a downtown arts scene in general, seems to come down to economic philosophy. Some existing organizations see the battle for arts dollars as a zero-sum game, with Becker’s proposals merely creating more entities trying to get a share of the same pie. Becker and other proponents of the center say the new facility would help to grow the overall size of the arts pie, with everyone still getting their share and the audience getting more offerings.

Becker says he is “committed to not tapping existing arts revenue sources,” but also notes, “public arts facilities will always need to be subsidized by public funds.”

Charles Morey, Pioneer Theatre Company artistic director, contends a downtown performing arts center would end up “robbing from one to fill another. Will there be more product? Yeah. Will the market sustain more product? You already have major arts organizations teetering on the brink.”

Lino notes the Wasatch Front has recently added facilities such as Rio Tinto Stadium, where a recent concert by the Eagles failed to sell out. He worries that projections about who will pay for entertainment can be overblown. “The mania for building is already playing out, and it’s not playing out the way the proponents said it would,” he says. Becker thinks the center will help grow the overall arts market because it will attract new folks to downtown Salt Lake City, people who normally don’t have a reason to go there. It will also open up the entire arts marketplace for people who might otherwise only seek out one aspect of it. “There are people who go to Wicked, but not to the ballet,” he says. “We need to draw those people into the performing arts.” He also stresses that the center is more than just Broadway shows; it would also include a variety of entertainment forms.

Tori_baker_rick_wray_g_1430.jpgNot only more offerings are envisioned, but more people: The audience that Becker and Beck claim they are targeting isn’t just the 1.5 million or so who live along the Wasatch Front, but rather the 3 million spread throughout the Rocky Mountain states.

Scott Beck says the convention and visitors bureau takes a regional perspective when looking at what Salt Lake City can offer because, “people in Wyoming and Idaho see Salt Lake City as their place.” He further notes that Salt Lake City has grown to where it can compete with Denver and Phoenix on a regional level.

While Beck agrees that “there are only so many dollars a family has to spend on arts and culture activities,” he is reminded that the city had a similar situation with hotels a few years ago. Local hoteliers worried about their survival when the Grand America and other hotel properties opened up in advance of the Olympics, but the end result was the city ended up with more lodging choices, which, according to Beck, brought in more visitors and ended up being more beneficial to all involved.

Could a similar situation occur in an arts economy? Both sides point to the recent run of sold-out performances for Wicked at the Capitol Theatre as proof of their theories.

Lino says it proves that “these shows are coming anyway”—while Becker says Wicked would have come sooner with cheaper ticket prices if Salt Lake City had a facility large enough to draw first-run shows.

Caywood and Geilmann say touring Broadway companies don’t look at size of facility when deciding where to go first, but rather the size of the overall market. With the Salt Lake area sitting at 35th in the nation in terms of size, Caywood says, “There’s no way Salt Lake City is going to get a first- or second-run national tour.”

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Posted // July 31,2009 at 20:46

Never Forget: Valley Music Hall (the theater-in-the-round that was built in Bountiful in the mid-1960s). Things started off just fine with well-attended national entertainment and rock groups.

Soon, however, the locals started complaining about "filth"....after they knowingly paid to see an adult named Phyllis Diller do a comedy act.

VMH was shut down due to the influence of the LDS blue-noses.

THEN, an amazing thing happened! The Mormons bought it for ten-cents on the dollar. It's still there, folks. It sits on the east side of I-15 in NSL/Bountiful, near the car lots. The red brick building with the round center.

I'm not sure Utah will allow us adults to be adults, unless everything is "correctly translated".


Posted // July 30,2009 at 09:23

That nut in Logan who told the Lyric which shows they could do is certainly deciding content. Don't be fooled that the LDS church will stay out of this. If over 68% are 'threatened' by Hollywood movies, what do you think the percentage is that are threatened by plays. Probably around 99%. That's why there's nothing but old crap on most of the stages in town. At least SLAC and Plan B try to do what the rest of the country regularly sees.


Posted // August 23,2009 at 12:26 - you nailed it sonny and laytonian. It made me chuckle to read thier "big" plans in accepting other views. Right. They have completely bored and dumbed down the downtown area.....just like they want it. Boring and plain, like crispy white garments!