The State Fair's grand old lady, suffering in disrepair for many years, seems destined for demolition.
The State Building Board unanimously approved Wednesday using $200,000 in state funds to demolish the Utah Fairpark's historic Coliseum, according to Richard E. Byfield, director of the Utah Division of Facilities, Construction and Management and a staff member to the building board.The board and Fairpark officials have unsuccessfully sought funds to rehabilitate the monolith for many years. Byfield estimated it would cost $7 million to $10 million to "rehabilitate" the building and bring it up to fire safety, building and other codes.
The state fire marshal condemned the Coliseum a number of years ago, but the building has continued to be rented under limited attendance and other rules.
The Coliseum, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was built about 1913.
Although the Coliseum's demise appears certain, a number of individuals or groups oppose the razing.
They include representatives of the State Division of History, the Utah Heritage Foundation and Lisa Miller, preservation planner for the Salt Lake City Historic Landmark Commission.
Fairpark Executive Director John Whittaker said Wednesday afternoon he and other officials at the Fairpark, which in July 1995 became a nonprofit public corporation, hope the Coliseum can be razed and the site leveled before the 1997 State Fair opens Sept. 4.
Last December Whittaker said Fairpark officials hoped to build a 7,500-seat amphitheater to replace the Coliseum. He said they hoped to gain legislative and public support to build an amphitheater for live entertainment events and to also build additional seating and a roof over the entire Fairpark rodeo arena.The Fairpark sought $400,000 from the 1997 Legislature, receiving $270,000 of that amount in operating funds for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
Fairpark Board chairwoman Pamela Turner said Thursday the board is "still looking to construct additional seating and a roof over the rodeo arena." And, she said, the board is "hoping to find someone interested in building a 7,500-seat facility at the Fairpark."
Turner said the Fairpark "has sought state funds even longer than (her eight years on the board) to bring the structure up to building code standards." The Coliseum has been the object of numerous and costly state-funded studies.
Don Hartley, an architect with State History Division's Office of Preservation, and Miller were among those who spoke Wednesday against demolishing the Coliseum.
Hartley told the Deseret News later that the history division, while sympathetic to the Fair-park's need to become self-sufficient and to generate income through upgraded facilities, doesn't necessarily see that goal as requiring the demolition of the Coliseum.
The architect said he recommends the Fairpark consider "moth-balling the Coliseum for a few years" while it works on efforts to complete the proposed enclosure of the outdoor arena.
Hartley said the Coliseum has "historic value, but that is always intangible and difficult to justify."
However, he said, "We would encourage the Fairpark and the Building Board not to demolish the building now because a building like the Coliseum reinforces the image of the fair as a place of history, tradition and continuity. We have no problem with them (Fair-park officials) trying to build (on to the rodeo arena) . . . In the future the Coliseum could even complement a new arena. We are suggesting that the Building Board and the Fairpark (back off the planned demolition) and focus their energy on getting a facility that would get the Fairpark board the positive cash flow they need to be self-supporting . . ."
Then, at some point, he said, the Coliseum could be "linked back to the arena. Let the Coliseum then be the overflow facility. Let it host equestrian or livestock events that need a more intimate setting than the larger arena."
Miller said Thursday the Coliseum is "one of the three most significant buildings in the Fairpark. It was designed by the architectural firm of Young & Son, the son and grandson of Brigham Young.
"The Coliseum is an integral part of the Fairpark complex. The Fairpark complex was laid out and planned with this building in mind. Salt Lake City and the Division of State History have been looking at the residential neighborhood surrounding the Fairpark as a possible national register historic district," Miller said.