The planned 2,500-seat playhouse is intended to attract traveling Broadway musicals and other big shows and complement the city's new retail and finance center just up the street at City Creek Center. Proponents also believe it will attract audiences from beyond the Salt Lake Valley, boosting businesses and sales tax receipts.
"We're here to celebrate an incredible milestone for Salt Lake City and the broader region," Becker said at a press conference at 135 S. Main St. where the mega-theater will be built. "With this new performing arts center, we will expand beyond the horizon to bring live shows who will have a place to perform like we have not had in Salt Lake City."
The mega-theater will take a prominent place on Main Street, the mayor said.
Michael Vela, managing principal with HKS, said form will follow function on the complex facility. And he noted that input from user groups and the public is essential to the design.
"The Utah Performing Arts Center has to work on a day in- and day out-basis," Vela said. "Those are the things that will drive the design."
Theaters previously designed by HKS include the Blue Man Group Theatre and the Jersey Boys Theatre, both in Las Vegas.
Several open houses will be scheduled for public input, city officials said.
According to the city's timetable, the blueprints won't be finalized until sometime in 2014, just ahead of the construction start. The grand opening is slated for March 2016.
David Layton, of Layton Construction, said his Utah firm will hire local workers to build the theater and support the local economy.
"This community is in the midst of a renaissance," he said. "It's fitting that the performing arts aren't left out of this renaissance."
Also on hand, perhaps to foreshadow things to come, was Carol Stickler, a cast member from the Broadway musical "Wicked," which is now playing at the Capitol Theatre on 200 South. She belted out a number from the play called "The Wizard & I."
Taking a cue from the singer, the mayor said, "At times, it felt like it's taken a wizard to keep us moving forward." He explained that the project was now 4½ years in the making and required overcoming many challenges.
It was only Tuesday, for example, that the Salt Lake County Council voted 6-3 to partner with Salt Lake City on the mega-theater. The vote came after months of negotiation. The county will invest $28.2 million and will operate the facility for a 50-50 split of profits up to $2 million. The city also will pay the county $600,000 annually to mitigate loses to the Capitol Theatre, Abravanel Hall and Rose Wagner theater that the county also operates.
City Councilman Kyle LaMalfa, who also sits as chairman of the city's Redevelopment Agency that is spearheading the project, called it "a public investment for downtown's future and Utah's future."
LaMalfa said the theater will be a cultural icon but will also spur local business in downtown's core.
"This is a place Utah will be proud of," he said.