The Salt Lake County Council made the right move in joining Salt Lake City's effort to bring a 2,500-seat Utah Performing Arts Center to the capital's downtown.
Although the funding partnership that calls for the county to contribute $28.2 million to the $110 million project is contingent on the two entities signing a pact that lets the county operate the new venue, the deal is nearly, and rightly, done.
The city's proposal is a good deal not only for county government but, most important, for all county residents.
Under Salt Lake City's funding plan for the theater, the county would use $1.7 million in annual taxes that now go to repay a county bond on EnergySolutions Arena. That bond will be paid off in 2015.
The agreement would put the new arts center on Main Street just south of City Creek Center under county management.
The Capitol Theatre, Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center and Abravanel Hall are already overseen by the Salt Lake County Center for the Arts. The county would get 50 percent of the profits up to $2 million, and Salt Lake City would pay the county $600,000 annually to restore any losses incurred at the other county-run venues due to competition from the larger theater.
Some County Council members worried about committing tax money to subsidize the performing arts, and that's a prudent viewpoint. But the truth is that arts groups and the venues required for patrons to enjoy their work almost never are financially self-sustaining. Councilman David Wilde didn't like some details of the proposed operating agreement. Those issues should be negotiated with the city so the county is not taking any unfair risks in the venture.
The large theater has been called a "Broadway-style" theater, but it is nothing of the sort. Most theaters on Broadway are small, intimate spaces, not auditoriums seating thousands. The UPAC would be a suitable venue for touring Broadway shows that are best produced on a large stage to a large audience. Think "Lion King," "Wicked" and other popular musicals that would draw not only from across the county but out of state as well.
The city estimates that more than a quarter-million tickets will be sold each year, and much of that will be "new," as the theater would attract people from a wider area than do current arts venues. Utah is ready to embrace performing arts on a big scale. The Utah Performing Arts Center will meet a growing need for Utah's growing population.