It was 1975, and Salt Lake County was gearing up for the Bicentennial Celebration. At the center of the plans was the creation of a world-class symphony hall to house our beloved Utah Symphony and to become the center and the symbol of our commitment to culture and the arts.

The only way to fund it was a bond election where people would have to vote to raise their taxes to build the hall. It was a tough sell. Plenty of voices were saying things like “I’m a hunter and fisherman, I would never set foot in that hall, why should I be taxed for it?” But the community came together — realizing that there were economic and cultural benefits to everyone, and to our children, and to our image as a state — and the bond election passed.

I will never forget our night-after-night efforts in the election call center reaching out to voters to explain the benefits and blessings of the proposed hall. All seated around tables with phones to our ears — symphony musicians, ballet dancers, history and restoration supporters and yes, hunters and fishermen — all making calls to turn out the vote for a glorious new hall. One thing that swung the election was the fact that we were not only building an incredibly beautiful building for the symphony and other music and community events, but also restoring the classic old Capitol Theatre for the ballet and theatrical productions.

I stood with Maurice Abravanel, O.C. Tanner, Jack Gallivan, Spence Eccles and other community leaders on election night as the results came in and watched tears stream down their faces as their dream for a great hall was finally realized. I will never forget that moment. And my purpose in writing this column is to ensure that none of us forgets the importance and irreplaceability of Abravanel Hall. To knock it down and try to replace it would be a historic, generational blunder.

If the goal is to create a connecting corridor between the Delta Center and the remodeled Salt Palace, then that corridor needs to incorporate the existing Abravanel Hall.

Fifty years ago, after the bond election passed, the first person we talked to was one of the best acousticians in the world — Cyril Harris from New York — because the first goal was to build a hall with the best sound quality possible. Cyril guided the gifted Salt Lake architect Boyd Blackner in all of his design. All the elements came together. O.C. Tanner put gold leaf on the exposed balconies and the incredible lobby with its grand staircase was designed with its massive window looking out and up at the city.

It is simply not replaceable. Its history, its timeless beauty, its acoustics, its symbolism of Salt Lake’s commitment to the arts and its location as the city’s center bullseye of culture cannot be recreated in some other building in some other place.

Now, I know that many of the key people working today on the revitalization plan for downtown were not even born when Symphony Hall was conceived and voted on and built. However, I believe that Ryan Smith and both of our mayors (particular Mayor Wilson, whose father, Ted, was Salt Lake’s mayor back in the day and a huge supporter of the hall) and other key people in this effort are smart, caring people, and they have all experienced Abravanel Hall, listened to the brilliance and balance of the sound, looked up at the classic chandeliers and gold leaf, and stood by the Chihuly glass sculpture in the lobby to look out at the panorama of the city. Their own common sense will tell them that this is not a building that can be replaced.

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And I hope they will stop issuing loaded language and loose numbers as they did in their statement referring to the need to “weigh all factors, including the high cost of a renovation alongside the benefits of rebuilding.” Putting “high cost” with renovation and “benefits” with rebuilding is manipulative and misleading. Going on to estimate the cost of updating the existing hall at “hundreds of millions of dollars” is simply not true, and suggesting that one of the needed upgrades is “acoustic improvement” is absurd, since it is one of the two or three best acoustic halls in the world.

And it’s not just the the symphony! Abravanel is the elegant gathering place for great lectures and concerts of all kinds. All of my children had their high school graduations at the Hall. I went there just last week for the wonderful performance of the Millennial Choir and Orchestra, which involved more than 900 youth performers. One of the kids who performed, a high school athlete, said, “Singing in here touched my soul. Sports can’t do that.”

We need to remember our history. We need to remember that Salt Lake County voters chose to tax themselves to build Symphony Hall. We need to remember the influence it has on schools and school kids all over the valley. We need to remember that progress is not just about building something new but about saving what is old and timeless. We need to remember that Abravanel Hall symbolizes balance between the big money and big arenas of sports and the powerful aesthetic and cultural benefits of the arts.

To remove a classic and iconic and wonderfully functional symphony hall to make more room for a sports complex and a hockey team would not only upset that balance, it would make a statement about our values and priorities that I don’t think many of us want to make.

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