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Academy of music step closer to reality

SOUTH JORDAN — Pat Melfi drops a lot of names when talking about his plans for a private music academy in South Jordan. And they're some pretty big names.

Former MCA Records president Bob Siner. Four-time world heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield. And countless big-time producers, promoters and recording artists that he has worked with during a long career in the music business.

To varying degrees, he sees them all as potentially having something unexpected in common: a part in an ambitious music-education program in the Salt Lake Valley's southern suburbs — "what I consider the most pristine area of the south end of the valley," he said.

Siner and Holyfield are already on board. And Melfi said many of his other connections in "the biz" could theoretically offer students insights on their respective areas of expertise, from what to look for in an agent to the ins and outs of music contracts to how, exactly, you go about scoring a film soundtrack.

Melfi has been a concert promoter since 1980, producing concerts for Alabama, Clint Black, Debbie Reynolds, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, the Rolling Stones and many others. He has produced and promoted albums for everyone from Juice Newton and Leann Rimes to the Eagles, Diamond Rio and Bad Company.

Melfi's plans for the South Jordan Academy of Music (www.sjacademyofmusic.com) have been the stuff of rumor and speculation for the past two years or so. But with the academy's first big donation — The Towers at South Towne real estate developer Jim Morse pitched in 2.13 acres of land worth about $1 million — the academy looks closer than ever to becoming a reality.

The academy in December secured a private matching-funds grant of up to $10 million from Com Link Capital Corp. Morse's land contribution will be matched in a monetary donation from the grant, and it brings to about 12 acres the area the academy owns on Jordan Gateway (400 West) just off 10600 South.

"It has this really cool campus flavor," Melfi said of the land. He envisions, ultimately, a big complex around the school, a complex of performance halls, free movies on the plaza, graphics arts studios — "a full-blown artsy kind of place."

And while the area is one of the valley's most up-and-coming development areas, bordered by a golf course and green space along Jordan River's banks, Melfi said his plans often prompt the obvious question: Why Utah?

"Utah is just blessed with an incredible amount of talent," he said. "And the talent doesn't know what to do, where to go, how to navigate the business side of music." Youngsters in Utah are often encouraged to develop musical talents, Melfi said, but "what do I do with it after I learn it?"

Siner, who lives in the Los Angeles area and has spent the past couple of decades buying and developing his own small record labels, said he was hesitant to buy into the project when Melfi approached him about it. He said he harbored stereotypes about Utah, but when he visited the area, "I was so impressed by the people there, their dedication to the community. If they say they're going to do something, they do."

Utahns are also unusually dedicated to their children's futures and happiness, Siner said. He said the academy itself sparked his interest because he wants to battle the " 'American Idol' syndrome" — the idea, spawned in part by the popular star-maker television series, that "you can just show up and become a star."

Instead, would-be musicians need to learn the often-tedious process of developing themselves as artists and preparing to navigate the world of contracts, agents, ownership of master recordings, promotion and the rest of the business side of music.

"With all the drastic cutbacks in arts for kids, (it's important) that people with a background in the business pass that on to kids," he said.

The academy recently purchased a catalog of about 7,500 master recordings of songs from artists such as Fred Astaire, Gene Autry, Count Basie, Alice Cooper and Bing Crosby for the students to use in learning about the process of recording and using masters. Melfi said the purchase was facilitated, in part, by Holyfield.

Holyfield's management would not give details about his involvement with the academy except to say that Holyfield has been working with Melfi. They would not give specifics about the masters catalog.

Locals are excited about the project, too.

Rick Horst, South Jordan's city manager, said the city supports Melfi and his plans and hopes he can take his enormous vision to its full extent — though he said it will be a long process, starting with the uphill battle of raising support and donations for the school and, perhaps in many years, ultimately becoming an arts powerhouse for the valley.

"As a city, we applaud his efforts and recognize that what he's trying to do is something that could be very worthwhile not only in South Jordan, but in the entire Salt Lake Valley," Horst said. "It's a lofty ambition and will require a lot of parties to become a reality."

He said city officials and academy representatives have been meeting with people in the public and private sectors, trying to gain support and, hopefully, contributions to the expensive endeavor. Melfi estimates the school can get started if planners can gather $10 million in donations, matched by the $10 million grant.

Horst also sees a major obstacle to the ultimate arts-complex plan in Salt Lake City's proposals to create an arts district around the historic Utah Theatre and nearby Capitol Theatre. The two projects, Horst said, would serve different purposes, but they would likely be competing for the state's finite supply of contributions to the arts.

Melfi said the performance center may have to be scaled down to accommodate the southern part of the valley. He said the primary focus of his project — and, for the past two years, the primary focus of his life — is the educational academy.

But Horst is hopeful the project will reach its full potential.

"I think it's just going to be a matter of patience and digging into the trenches and sooner or later it's going to happen," he said.


E-mail: dsmeath@desnews.com