Renovations at the Capitol Theatre must be done in time for pre-Christmas performances of The Nutcracker.
So the Salt Lake County Council moved Tuesday to keep the project on its tight timetable, releasing $3 million to begin phase one of a $33.4 million public/private endeavor to give the century-old theater a face-lift and to erect a new Ballet West dance academy building adjacent to it.
Starting in June, demolition crews will begin punching holes in walls, tearing out the stage and orchestra pit, removing 1,819 well-worn seats and stripping the lobby down to the frame.
Then construction crews will raise the stage four inches to improve sight lines for the refurbished chairs that will be put back in with better row-marker lights. They will expand the lobby, fine tune the building's acoustics and install more wheelchair seating.
On top of it all, they will replace a 300-ton "chiller" on the roof, a key fixture in the complete replacement of the theater's antiquated heating and air conditioning system.
To get the bid process for this work under way, the County Council agreed to advance $300,000 to the project from one of its internal funds, expecting that money to be reimbursed through a federal Historic Tax Credit when the project is completed.
The bulk of the initial funding, $2 million, is expected to come from Salt Lake City. While the city has not paid up yet, Deputy County Mayor Nichole Dunn said she expects the money to be forthcoming soon once negotiations are further along on an ownership agreement for downtown's other new projected showcase, the Utah Performing Arts Center.
Salt Lake City spokesman Art Raymond said the city is an "enthusiastic participant in a great project" to renovate the theater, but $2 million is a lot of money so city officials are being diligent to make sure they know precisely how the money will be spent. He expects the process to be done by mid-February, adding "the money is earmarked [for the theater]. In no way is our support in question."
Councilman Michael Jensen characterized the council's decision to go ahead without a check in hand from the city as a "show of good faith" by the county that the city will follow through.
More important, added Councilman Jim Bradley, the gesture shows Ballet West's generous benefactors that local governments are cooperating to get the project done. "Significant private sector money is going into this, and [Ballet West leaders] want a sign that everybody is still on board," he said.
Ballet West was responsible for raising $13.5 million for the project, which includes development of the Jessie Eccles Quinney Center for Dance. The five-story structure will be home to the ballet and an academy with up to 600 dance students.
Public financing includes the city's $2 million and $11.4 million from Salt Lake County. The remaining $6.5 million is expected to come in the form of tax credits the already-secured Historic Tax Credits and a larger pot of New Market Tax Credits that county officials feel they are almost certain to receive in 2014.
Several Salt Lake County Council members on Tuesday lauded Jóhann Jacobs, who announced Dec. 28 that he was leaving Ballet West after 15 years as executive director. The council plans to draft a resolution that says, in the words of Councilman Randy Horiuchi, "we think the world of him and wish him well."