Family steps up with $4 million to rescue Capitol Theatre project
Capitol Theatre will carry on with planned $33.4M face-lift after foundation's generous gift.
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Just when the future of the century-old Capitol Theatre was in dire straits, the Janet Quinney Lawson Foundation came to the rescue.

In a surprise announcement Tuesday, Salt Lake County officials said the foundation donated $4.1 million to keep a $33.4 million renovation from being canceled at nearly the last minute after a federal tax credit came up $5 million short of budget expectations.

For that contribution, the modernized facility will be renamed the Janet Quinney Lawson Capitol Theatre. It will stand side by side with Ballet West's new headquarters and its Jessie Eccles Quinney Center for Dance, named after Janet's mother.

"It's a wonderful pairing of mother and daughter, side by side," Ellen Rossi, Janet Quinney Lawson's granddaughter, told the County Council after the gift was revealed. "Grandma was a huge fan of the ballet, took us to 'The Nutcracker,' was the first to take me to 'Swan Lake.' She would be very, very happy to be part of this. This is a very powerful thing for us [the Quinney Lawson family], to see this project come to fruition."

A couple of weeks ago, it was in big trouble.

After two years of detailed planning and arduous fundraising, word was received that a $6.3 million New Market Tax Credit the project's supervising partnership had been banking on wasn't happening, said county Chief Financial Officer Darrin Casper.

"It left us in a pickle," he said after the tax-credit request was trimmed to $1.3 million, leaving a $5 million gap in the funding package put together by the county, which contributed $11.4 million; Salt Lake City, which put in $2 million; and Ballet West, which was responsible for raising $13.5 million. "We thought about canceling the project."

But "the family came in and saved the day," beamed Erin Litvack, the county's director of community services, describing how she received a phone call not long after informing project financial adviser Goldman Sachs and Ballet West of the tax credit news.

The caller was Herbert Livsey, a shareholder in the prominent Salt Lake City law firm Ray Quinney & Nebeker and a trustee with another family philanthropic arm, the S.J. and Jessie E. Quinney Foundation.

"He said he had a solution to our challenges," Litvack said.

The Janet Quinney Lawson Foundation offered to donate the $4.1 million if the county agreed to pick up a match Ballet West was required to provide for the tax credit. The county's obligation will go up $2.5 million, money available in unexpended funds from the Zoo Arts and Parks account, Litvack said.

Council members didn't hesitate to back the plan unanimously. "The stars lined up and it was meant to be," said Councilman Max Burdick.

County Mayor Ben McAdams hailed the foundation for its persistent support through two years of preparations for the June 28 start of work on phase one of the project.

"Their level of commitment and vision is unparalled," he said, praising the gift for "moving this quality cultural asset forward … as we invest not only in our history but in our future with the ballet."

The symbolism of having mother/daughter names on buildings that are next-door neighbors resonated with the family-oriented McAdams.

"It will send a positive signal to the youth using the dance school and patrons visiting the theater for many years to come," he said.

mikeg@sltrib.com

Twitter: @sltribmikeg —

Ready to roll soon

Work is set to begin June 28 and will be done by Nov. 30 — in time for "The Nutcracker."

Phase one will include raising the stage 4 inches, replacing the theater's 1,876 seats, providing new seating platforms for the disabled, remodeling the lobby, installing a new orchestra pit and upgrading heating and air conditioning systems.

Phase two will expand that work and attach the theater in 14 points to Ballet West's headquarters and dance academy, slated to be done by May.