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In the end Tuesday, the Salt Lake County Council accepted The Exoro Group's offer to donate its services to the mayor's office to help complete two studies about the proposed creation of a Film and Digital Media Center in downtown Salt Lake City.

But virtually none of the discussion that preceded the unanimous decision focused on the public affairs firm's "in-kind contribution," valued at $6,800 per month.

Instead, the back-and-forth banter returned to the same divisive issue at the forefront when the council agreed in March 2012 to spend $50,000 for an architectural study of converting the old Utah Theater (150 S. Main) into an independent film production and exhibition facility.

The county also invested another $75,000 into a study on developing an archive of independent films. The studies are expected to be done this fall.

"So far we've done a lot of nice things for Salt Lake City and nothing but talk for the rest of the valley," said Councilman David Wilde, a Murray resident. "… Will this [contribution] result in us funding another big arts project in Salt Lake City?"

That remains to be seen, responded County Mayor Ben McAdams. But he added The Exoro Group, which would place itself under his direction, would help the county make a better decision about the proposed project's potential by obtaining input from the private sector and community leaders.

"Is this [merely] a film center or does it have economic development potential? I'd like to explore that," said McAdams. "Maybe we can bring in some business leaders and tech leaders who can think more broadly" about the possible consequences of creating a film center to take advantage of the Sundance Film Festival's annual presence.

The facility, which would be part of the county's Center for the Arts, is being promoted by a coalition of nonprofits — Spy Hop Productions, the Salt Lake Film Society and the Utah Film Center — that have raised matching funds for the studies.

With financial underwriting from Zions Bank, The Exoro Group helped form the coalition and has been working to develop a broad base of support for the concept.

Putting the firm under the mayor's direction, McAdams said, will expand those efforts through scheduling, research, community outreach, project coordination and vendor relations.

After Council Chairman Steve DeBry, of South Jordan, also questioned why not put a center like this somewhere outside of Salt Lake City, McAdams said the county has done, or plans to do, numerous projects around the valley.

"You have my commitment" that arts money will be spread around, he added, pledging, "I wouldn't spend money if the return on investment wasn't there."

Twitter: @sltribmikeg

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