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UTAH SEEKS TO CREATE PERFORMING-ARTS CENTER IN MOAB

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Utah's congressional delegation is asking for $6 million in federal funds to develop a national performing-arts center located below Moab's Slickrock Trail.

Promoters say the proposed Kokopelli National Theatre would be the Western version of Wolf Trap Farm Park in Vienna, Va., which is the nation's only national park dedicated to the performing arts.A united Utah congressional delegation introduced twin bills into both the Senate and the House of Representatives last week. The bills ask for a $6 million appropriation for the complex. Matching contributions of 35 percent would be sought for the facility, which has an estimated price tag of $9.5 million.

The complex, named after a flute-playing, mythical figure often depicted in Anasazi Indian rock paintings, would be operated as a partnership between the Bureau of Land Management, which controls the Slickrock Recreation Area, and the University of Utah's Moab Center for the Fine Arts. The legislation calls for phased development of a theater-in-the-round, a natural rock ampitheater, an observatory and an enclosed stage.

In Utah's continuing promotional battle, an outdoor performing-arts complex could be as attention-catching as the Winter Olympics bid, one organizer says.

"In the world of arts and entertainment and performance, this is as significant as Utah getting the Olympics," said Geoffrey Panos, director of U.'s Moab Center. "You can find alpine country and good snow in many parts of the United States, but you can't find Southern Utah anywhere else.

"God was the setmaker, but we're combining the treasures of Utah with the extraordinary human talent in the performing arts that also exists here."

But Jack Campbell, a self-described outdoorsman and volunteer environmentalist in Moab, said he is anxious about the amount of development proposed for the arts center - and that the plans were developed without public input. He's afraid the arts complex could bring bad news for mountain bikers.

"In principle, it is quite an exciting idea," Campbell said. "They happen to have picked an area that already has a large user group. They have made no attempt at this point to reach out to that user group.

"Unless the project is done with a lot of sensitivity, it has the potential to very drastically change the whole ambience of the whole Slickrock Bike Trail.

"The project is not inherently a bad project. It just needs monitoring."

Sam Taylor, publisher of the weekly Times-Independent, said the arts complex might be controversial because it was put together behind closed doors. But now that it has been announced by Utah's congressional delegation, Taylor lauded it as a clean, quality economic development proposal. "I'm going to devote a good deal of my front page this week to that story."

And he said there shouldn't be a battle over use of the area, as bikers don't use the trail at night when performances would be scheduled. "I think the users are pretty compatible."

Panos said the complex will be designed to be "environmentally reverent."

"For us, it's one of those hopefully ideal situations where you have economic development that is environmentally benign," said Scott Kearin, legislative director for Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah.

The proposal is in the drawing board stage, Kearin said. "At this point it is unclear as to how far development would go."

Kearin said the complex is being envisioned as a model balancing environmental and economic interests.

"This will be the only outdoor theater for the arts in the Western United States," said Gene Nodine, district manager for the BLM.

"This is a tremendous opportunity for southeastern Utah economically. It will sell southeast Utah and it will help the bureau tell its story."