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Farewell, Promised Valley

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The loss of the Promised Valley Playhouse will leave a void in downtown Salt Lake City, but at least its face will remain as an architectural reminder of what used to be. All things considered, that was the best compromise available.

In some ways, the playhouse was a victim of poor timing. Built in 1905 as the Orpheum, it was badly in need of repairs that would have cost at least $14.7 million, according to estimates. Its owner, Zions Securities, turned to Salt Lake County for help, asking for the county either to buy the building outright or lease it until an effort could be made to raise the renovation money. Unfortunately, the economy is going soft. The county, stuck with the legacy of a massive tax increase left by outgoing commissioners when the form of government changed last year, couldn't justify such an expense. Too many other essential services are in need of money. Earlier efforts to raise money and support for the theater fell short.

The irony is that many people believe the county some day will need another midsize theater, but the meager demand today would not justify the cost of renovation. Governments can't afford to speculate with taxpayer money. This is similar to the county's decision to tear down the Salt Palace Acord Arena in the early 1990s, only a few years before minor-league hockey and the Winter Olympics created a demand for an arena of the exact same size. West Valley City ended up building the E Center with public funds.

Under plans approved this week, Zions Securities will raze all but the facade and lobby area of the playhouse. A parking garage will go up behind that area, but the lobby will be made available for offices and shops.

No one should underestimate the decision to keep the building's intricate and ornate facade. That kind of preservation is much more expensive than simply tearing down the entire structure, and it signals an enormous respect for the city's architectural heritage and a willingness to invest in maintaining an historic character to the growing downtown area. In a similar way, Old Navy should be commended for preserving the facade of its new building at 100 South and Main.

Cities are dynamic, living things. Change is constant. Promised Valley will be sorely missed, but its face will always remind people of what was.