Something Wicked This Way Comes | Cover Story | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

July 29, 2009 News » Cover Story

Something Wicked This Way Comes 

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

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Geralyn Talks Film
Geralyn Dreyfous founded The Salt Lake City Film Center in 2002 and serves as its executive and artistic director. She was executive producer of the 2004 Academy Awardwinning documentary Born Into Brothels.

City Weekly: So, why do you think Salt Lake City could or should support a film center?

GD: Sundance started the Art House Convergence on its 20th anniversary. This was dedicated to helping art houses strengthen their audience because, as you know, art houses are in trouble and they’re dying.

Unlike with indie bookstores—the King´s Englishes of the world—when Barnes & Noble comes in and replaces the bookstores, they still offer the same books. Well, there aren’t theater chains coming in that are offering independent art-house cinema.

So, what we’re seeing is a national trend for art houses to become nonprofits and to begin to do the kind of programming that we’re doing as a way to build community and a loyalty among their consumers.

As a result, the Film Center and the Film Society are exploring a merger and what it would be like if we programmed together. The Film Society has done a great job in bringing us first-run cinema, and they have six theaters and have a very small staff but they barely break even every year because of how difficult it is to make a living in this business because of all the ways this business is changing. They have a staff of two, and we have a staff of eight.

If we could bring some of our community outreach and attention to some of the smaller films that are important that have social messaging or are important for our community to see—and strengthen the box office—we could also be able to offer more community programming that would be free.

So, we think that we’re ahead of any place in the country, the two of us together, the fact that we have six theaters in Salt Lake City in a community of our size is unprecedented. Most communities our size have three or four screens.

Part of the reason why art houses have been in trouble is that they don’t have the resources to market and to attract their audiences. They just have a postage stamp ad and unless you’re a cinephile and you’re reading The New York Times reviews, you won’t know what you’re going to miss. And we’re losing film critics, too.

Yes, we are unique in the country. The idea of using film as a tool for community and democracy-building is unique.

But the community is also unique. We have to pay homage to Sundance for 25 years of developing an audience that will follow the leadership of highly curated programming. People take risks coming to see things if they trust the curator that maybe wouldn’t happen in another marketplace. And, we have a nonprofit theater operator in the Salt Lake Film Society that operates the Tower and the Broadway. It is unprecedented with the number of its art-house screens. So what we do is unique, but the bigger story is the combination of these organizations working together that could create a standard for what the future 21st century art house will look like.

Vasilios Talks Downtown
Vasilios Priskos is the driving force behind InterNet Properties Inc. and owns numerous downtown properties, including the old Tribune building on Main Street. While he chairs both the Downtown Alliance and the Downtown Development Committee, he agreed to comment on behalf of InterNet Properties for this story:

What is your view of the downtown performing arts center and an indie film center? Are they both needed?
Both projects are needed and both play a very important role in the continued redevelopment of downtown. There have been multiple studies supporting the need of a Broadway-style theater. Broadway theater has had great success in our city, even though the facilities where they are held are not ideal.

The Utah Theater (I am representing the owner, Howa development) has been dormant for years and offers the community a great opportunity to bring back to life a very important stretch of Main Street. Although the final user/operator has not been determined, the current activities and programming of the Salt Lake City Film Center, Salt Lake Film Society, SpyHop and others would provide great content and give the community another entertainment and cultural venue.

Both projects make economic sense and are timely given the amount of investment taking place at the City Creek project. Other than the fountains and restaurants, there is not a cultural or entertainment component within City Creek. City Creek is being projected to have 10 million visitors a year. Many of those visitors will be coming from conventions and many will be tourists. Having cultural and entertainment offerings, many of which will be family oriented, might entice them to come in a little early or stay a little later.

Both projects will enhance our existing venues, and will compliment the new proposed ballet facility.

Do you see the funding being there for them?
Funding will be difficult, and there will be many arguments about appropriation of funds given our current financial climate. I do think that funding can be found through new resources that may become available. We need to reinvest in our downtown, which will increase overall property values, increase taxes from restaurants and hotels, and pay dividends to future generations that utilize You Tube as their only cultural experience.

Does Salt Lake City need a designated entertainment district? Or will one grow naturally?
Every great city has a place where people congregate, especially tourists. Most of the best places in our nation were created organically. Salt Lake has two interesting areas that have shown promise, the Broadway/Pierpont area and Main Street. There have been some liquor proximity issues in downtown that will hopefully be resolved. If resolved, I think we need to let supply and demand run its course.

If these projects became a reality, how would you develop the old Trib building?
It will be extremely difficult to develop the Tribune properties without knowing how the project will look next door. We are hoping that a developer will be chosen, and physical issues can be resolved. At that point, a residential use with retail on the main level would be appropriate. But, the property still is in good shape to be refitted for office use. We will develop the property to meet the need of the current market. My vote is for residential; my partner’s vote is for office. Either way, it will be very rewarding to put the building back into use.

Jerre Wroble
jerre@cityweekly.net

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