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Proposed Skyscraper in Salt Lake City Would Take Place of Aging Theater

SALT LAKE CITY, UT — Elected officials in Salt Lake City recently discussed a sales price for the Utah Theater, after the city quietly inked a deal with developers hoping to dismantle the 100-year-old Main Street venue and build a skyscraper in its place.

Mayor Jackie Biskupski’s Chief of Staff Patrick Leary signed a formal sales agreement with global real estate firm Hines and Utah-based developer LaSalle, the mayor’s spokesman Matthew Rojas and others confirmed.

The mayor is now pushing to discount the entire price of selling the property, valued in June 2019 at $4 million, in exchange for major concessions from the developers, including a sizeable share of affordable housing in the proposed new tower.

Biskupski’s go-ahead on the sale came after years of talks and several government-backed studies aimed at finding ways to restore the badly dilapidated performance venue. And while they have openly struggled in several meetings over the prospect of losing the ornate and venerable hall, members of the City Council have balked at the latest price tag of $60 million or more to repair its decaying interior, retrofit it against earthquakes and return the building to a useful life.

Hines and LaSalle have proposed building a 375-foot tower at the site, with retail outlets, up to 300 apartments, a mid-block walkway and a small park. Their initial plans also include saving and reusing historic elements from the theater, including its bricks, an original signboard, an atrium ceiling skylight and some of its neoclassical plaster sculptures.

Rojas said the city has consulted in recent years with scores of stakeholders, arts and other groups, and even potential financial backers before concluding that saving the theater was not viable. Biskupski herself favored the idea of restoring the building for use as a film center, her spokesman said, “but it just didn’t work.”

The city’s sales agreement now allows the developers, which both own property adjacent to the theater, to negotiate a discount on buying the 0.89-acre site at 144-158 South Main, which the city purchased in 2010.

Under the mayor’s proposal, even writing down all $4 million of the theater property’s estimated price would only cover some of the concessions sought from Hines and LaSalle, RDA documents indicate.

By those estimates, developers would contribute between $1.6 million and $2.9 million of their own money toward public benefits from the skyscraper.

Including 30 affordable apartments in the proposed tower, at least 10 percent of the tower’s total housing, and making those units accessible for 50 years to residents earning between 60 percent and 80 percent of the city’s average incomes would cost the developers $4.2 million, that analysis suggests.

Cutting the 14-foot-wide mid-block walkway to connect Main Street with the inner section of that downtown block would cost up to $1.8 million and saving historic elements from the theater, another $1 million, analysts for the City Council have concluded.
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