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Salt Lake split over Unity subsidy

Poll shows uncertainty over using tax funds on west-side center

Deseret Morning News graphic

Salt Lake City residents are divided about whether they want their tax dollars spent on the Sorenson Unity Center, a new poll shows.

The west-side community and service center — created as a way to solve the contentious Main Street Plaza fray — was supposed to be funded and programmed by private partners looking to team up with the city.

Now, however, Mayor Rocky Anderson's administration is seeking some $230,000 in annual tax dollars to subsidize the center's operations. And while there was substantial support for the center's creation back when Anderson proposed the project in 2003, the new poll shows city residents are now conflicted about whether they want their tax money put into the center, located near the city's Poplar Grove and Glendale neighborhoods on the corner of 900 West and 1300 South.

The Deseret Morning News/KSL-TV survey, conducted Aug. 30-Sept. 1 by Dan Jones & Associates, shows a slim plurality of residents, 46 percent, favors subsidizing the center. Another 39 percent of residents oppose subsidizing the center. The difference falls within the poll's 7 percent margin of error. Another 16 percent said they didn't know.

Regardless of what residents think, City Council members are resolved to fund the center, even if the costs do keep rising. They maintain the city made a commitment to build and operate the center, so even if it costs tax dollars the city needs to fulfill that commitment.

"The majority (of city residents) or close to majority understand we may have to subsidize it for a year or two while we get our partners in place," Councilman Van Turner said. "It's hard to say what the actual costs will be until it's up and running."

Still, City Council members seem divided about certain aspects of the center. The plan calls for a black box theater in the new center that could be rented out to community groups. Some, like Turner, feel the theater could end up turning a profit to help the city pay for the center. Others think the theater might need to be abandoned to help downsize the center's operations and reduce costs. They maintain there might not really be a demand for such a theater.

"I'm concerned about the black box theater," Councilman Dave Buhler said. "I'm wondering if it really needs to be there."

Many council members are hoping that once the center is built, more partners will step up and provide services in the new building.

"I do tend to think that some parties will come to the table after the building's built," Council member Carlton Christensen said.

Mayor Rocky Anderson has been trying to convince Salt Lake Community College officials to offer some community classes at the center. College officials have said they are interested but haven't committed yet. Another group, Donated Dental Services, will offer free services at the Unity Center, which will also have a fitness center run by Salt Lake County.

The center is set to open next year.