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County: Don’t gouge arts groups

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A Salt Lake County task force's recommendation to raise rents for arts groups by as much as 500 percent over the next five years is shortsighted and counter-productive. As this page said recently, such measures should be mitigated by common sense and decisions not based solely on bottom-line business figures.

The task force studied what fine-arts groups are paying in other cities, then concluded Salt Lake County needs to balance the interests of a few key organizations that have been receiving subsidized rent - Ballet West, Utah Opera, Ririe Woodbury Dance Company and the Utah Symphony - with those of other groups also wanting to use its facilities. Venues in question include the Capitol Theatre, Rose Wagner Center for the Performing Arts, Salt Lake Arts Center and Abravanel Hall.Besides encouraging sizable rent increases, the task force suggested space modifications including removing all offices from Capitol Theatre's basement. That supports the theory that the impetus behind the proposal is to better accommodated moneymaking touring productions.

Penalizing permanent, local arts organizations to make bigger bucks off touring companies is bad policy. Visiting productions are a boon, but cultural and economic impacts from mainstays are more significant over time. The four groups that would be threatened by these outrageous rent hikes deserve, as permanent occupants of county facilities, a bit of a break to help keep them healthy. Minor subsidies for arts groups are not uncommon in many cities.

Moderate rent increases may be in order, but to suggest that levels need a sudden escalation to "market rates" comparable to what other cities charge is to ignore what these groups give back to the community in terms of cultural enhancements and benefits.

The county's arts facilities were created specifically to house local organizations. Now is not the time to undermine strong public-private partnerships in a shortsighted attempt to profit unduly from exorbitant rental rates.