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Sean Reynolds

New show or last act?

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From the Salt Lake Tribune:

ut_UtahTheater.jpg

Don't mistake Rick Howa for an arts lover. He doesn't attend the opera or ballet.

But the owner of a construction company and vacant chunks of Main Street is behind the potential renovation of a 1919 theater that city and county leaders can't wait to fund.

Howa normally shuns publicity, but he wants support for his project to restore the Utah Theatre to its former glory. A renovated theater at 148 S. Main St. would welcome Broadway productions and show off a large stained-glass panel in the ceiling, the original granite floors and elaborate plaster work in the grand promenade and lobby.

But if his plans for a $40 million to $45 million theater crumble -- as they have in the past -- Howa said Friday that he will demolish the building. He previously has considered building a parking garage and office tower on the site.

"I'm not doing this as a labor of love. I'm doing this because I understand that if things like this don't happen in a city, then you can write that city off," he said. "I can deliver an economic engine downtown."

Howa provided a draft report of economic benefits from Wikstrom Economic & Planning Consultants that predicted a 2,700-seat venue could generate $74 million in ticket sales over five years and $33 million from restaurants, lodging, transportation and gift sales over the same period. The city, county and state would see more tax revenues, too.

Howa, CEO of Howa Construction, also aims to make a profit. His company would restore the theater and then sell it to Salt Lake County. He figures he will have spent $2.5 million on the building in plans and studies before construction even begins. He wants to make more than $5 million in the sale. "I make money; there's no question."

A 1997 study on performing-arts spaces in the capital city showed a need for a theater to house large touring programs. Salt Lake County owns a handful of performing arts venues downtown and County Councilman Randy Horiuchi wants to add Howa's theater to that portfolio.

The potential arrangement raises questions. Normally, government agencies seek competitive bids to build public projects.

"I haven't even thought about how we're going to treat the construction," Horiuchi said. "I'd just as soon [seek bids], but if we get a deal from Howa . . . I need to talk to the attorneys. Everything we do will be by the book."

Horiuchi sought money from the Legislature this year to renovate the theater, but the effort failed. He now is looking at putting a bond on the ballot as early as November.

Salt Lake City Councilwoman Jill Remington Love expects the city's Redevelopment Agency would pitch in, too. "It's just been sitting there and sitting there," she said. "We want to find a use for it. It would be tragic to lose the building."

Howa would retain ownership of his empty Daynes and Guy Store buildings next to the theater, perhaps adding restaurants or retail.

Arts organizations that use the nearby county-owned and operated Capitol Theatre, such as Ballet West and the Utah Opera, want to be involved in the planning for the new theater because they hope to use the space, too. They have expressed concern about the possibility of the for-profit entertainment conglomerate Clear Channel managing both theaters.

That is being discussed. As Howa devised preliminary designs for the theater, he consulted with Clear Channel and an architecture firm Clear Channel has partnered with on past theater renovations. Horiuchi said a county partnership with Clear Channel is a possibility.

The entertainment giant brings Broadway productions to Utah, usually to Capitol Theatre.

John Ballard, Clear Channel Entertainment's regional director, said he has turned away large traveling shows because the existing theaters couldn't accommodate them. He is interested in operating Capitol and a restored Utah Theater and expects he also could book more concerts, lectures and films downtown. The opera and ballet would have access to both theaters and could produce more shows, he said.

"They now have first priority in booking Capitol Theatre. I'm sure that wouldn't change," he said. "They'd be given every opportunity to book new dates in the new theater."

Ballard also said tickets for the Broadway shows would be cheaper than they are now because more tickets could be sold.

Howa offered The Salt Lake Tribune a tour Friday of the Utah Theater, once known as the Pantages Theatre. The walls in the lobby are baby blue, yellow and pink. Curved tile decorates perches for lamps that once lit the promenade. The vast theater -- which became a movie house in the 1940s -- has been gutted.

Howa bought the building in 1994. He was eating a slice of cheese pizza at a Main Street eatery when the for-sale sign went up.

He toured it, bought it and figured he would renovate the theater as a way to give his construction company work.

Trying to counter critics who accuse him of so-called landbanking (or sitting on a piece of vacant property), Howa showed renovation drawings he commissioned in 1995. But a market study said there wasn't enough demand for Broadway performances then.

Howa marketed his property nationally, but there were no takers. He looked into building an office tower, and later, a mixed-used development project. In September 2003, he returned to restoration.

"People don't sit on things if there's an opportunity to make money," Howa said. "It's obvious that the theater is probably the highest and best use of this property."

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http://www.sltrib.com/2004/Mar/03132004/utah/147351.asp

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I'd of gone with the tower! :blink:

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Personally I think a theater would be nice. Although at the same time a new tower would be nice too. At least SLC will be getting a good development either way!

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