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Salt Lake leaders consider short-term options for Utah Theater

SALT LAKE CITY — You might be able to buy a T-shirt at the Utah Theater long before you'll have a chance to catch a flick there.

After purchasing the Main Street property earlier this year, the city's Redevelopment Agency is weighing its short-term options for the project: Open up the space to retailers or demolish much of the shuttered theater.

"I'm beginning to learn, when you get around these old buildings, it doesn't matter what you pay for them, you're fixing them up and retrofitting them, and you're going to spend a lot of money," said Councilman Van Turner, who frequented the theater in its heyday. "In today's economic climate, I think we need to get money from the county and the state to make that into the grand theater we're looking at. That's not going to happen this year."

To that end, Turner and other City Council members have expressed interest in using the property's retail space, the one-time home of the Mayflower restaurant and Daynes Music, for retailers interested in short-term leases.

That could mean coffee shops, souvenir stores and art studios on Main Street long before the first films are shown there.

The retail element of the property was a surprise for Turner, who said he would like to see the city "light that up" rather than leave a "dead building there."

"I think when we got into this thing, all we ever focused on was the theater itself," he said. "Now we're saying we have a great opportunity to change a part of Main Street and do some more modern applications."

Renovating the retail portion of the property at 144-156 S. Main would cost about $2.3 million, according to city documents.

Restoring the century-old theater, however, could run in excess of $30 million, and officials said demolishing it would be the more cost-effective option.

If demolition is the preferred option, a number of council members, including Turner and Councilman Stan Penfold, have said it's vital to maintain "the look and feel of the original theater."

The RDA purchased the theater for $5.5 million in January as part of an ongoing effort to build up the city's arts and cultural district.

"Without (the Utah Theater), you don't have a theater district," Turner said. "The purchase was good just for the land. It's better for the theater, and the retail is just the icing on the cake."