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Drama unfolding over Broadway-style theater

Salt Lake and Sandy both vying for top billing

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Salt Lake County leaders are calling for a fair fight in the battle for a Broadway-style theater.

A private developer plans to build a theater in Sandy, but Salt Lake City leaders want to beat the suburb to the punch. Waiting on the sidelines is Salt Lake County, where a study is in the works to determine where and if a theater should be built at all.

On Tuesday, county leaders urged both cities to work with the county's "neutral" consultant to figure out the best option for a theater.

"It's going to be pretty clear which route the public is going to want us to go," Councilman Joe Hatch said.

Salt Lake City is working on a deal to buy the 100-year-old Utah Theater and revamp it into a 2,500-seat performing arts center.

City officials also are considering a handful of other possible locations for a Broadway-style theater within a planned arts district for the two-block area bordered by 100 South, State Street, 200 South and West Temple. The Salt Lake Chamber and Downtown Alliance previously announced plans to transform the area into an epicenter for arts, culture and entertainment.

Sandy wants to build a 2,500-plus-seat theater as part of an office, condominium and retail complex near Sandy City Hall. The city plans to hire a theater operator this summer, with 2011 as the target date for its opening.

Studies have indicated that the Salt Lake Valley can only support one such theater. The new Salt Lake County study will look at that as well.

Wednesday, NewSpace Entertainment, local operator of Broadway Across America — Utah, which has presented touring Broadway shows in Salt Lake City and other cities, announced that they will not respond for a request for proposal for a theater from Sandy. The company said the decision was made in response to a request from Salt Lake County, in order to allow the county time to complete its study.

However, Sandy has also been courting an East Coast developer, assistant city manager Scott Bond has said.

County Councilman Mark Crockett isn't even sure the county could handle one theater.

The idea of two "scares the living daylights out of" Councilman Randy Horiuchi.

Councilman David Wilde wonders why the county is doing the study at all.

"In all honesty you almost wonder why we are even doing this study when you have two cities saying, 'I'm going to build one no matter what your study says,"' Wilde said.

So for now, Wilde wants the county study to consider what the county should do should the theater be built in Salt Lake City or Sandy. He said he wants to know whether the county should invest public dollars or not, and the study should help answer that question.

Sandy leaders insist no public funding will be used for the theater there.

However, Hatch said in the end the city will end up subsidizing the theater in two ways: redevelopment agency tax breaks and an eventual operations subsidy.

"Their theater is going to be subsidized," Hatch said.

E-mail: ldethman@desnews.com