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Orem • Once upon a time, a group decided that people here would want to hear stories.

Karen Ashton, then-president of the Friends of the Orem Public Library, lent her backyard — and convinced a few friends to do the same — to host a storytelling festival along the Provo Riverbottoms.

That first Timpanogos Storytelling Festival had more than 600 people turn out to hear tales spun. Today, the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival draws more than 40,000 people annually to Mount Timpanogos Park in Provo Canyon, having long outgrown Ashton's backyard and the SCERA Shell amphitheater.

But even that is not enough to satiate Orem residents' love for storytelling, even in an age of Facebook and YouTube.

"Story touches everyone. It touches people of all ages," said Louise Wallace, Orem's library director. "It's an essential element to our humanity. It touches the social fabric."

With crowds overflowing the library's storytelling auditorium, part of the library's north wing, Wallace and the city are working on an addition that will be dedicated to storytelling.

The Center For Story, a complex consisting of a 385-seat auditorium, exhibit hall and two classrooms, is planned to be built next to Orem City Center. The $4.4 million center could open in 2013.

At a recent City Council meeting, Mayor Jerry Washburn and council members were trying to figure out how to place the center on the city center campus without obstructing the view of the seat of government.

However, Councilwoman Mary Street was concerned that the center might interfere with the city's plans for an arts district centered on the SCERA Theatre and the Hale Center Theatre to the south. She feared the center might detract from those performance venues.

"I don't want to compete with an arts district that is part of our master plan," Street said.

Wallace said the arts district was not meant to be confined to a single block. Nor does she see the story center as competing with SCERA or the Hale for a scarce audience. Rather, she said they would complement each other.

The rest will come through donations and grants.

She said the current 150-seat auditorium has meant turning away many patrons from events, or having to schedule them for repeat performances. Among the programs that would be offered at the center are storyteller performances, storytelling workshops and book discussions.

Wallace said the exhibit hall, which would be a glass-enclosed atrium around the auditorium and connecting to the main City Center, would host travelling art exhibits and be a place for people to gather.

The center will be paid for with $1.9 million in Cultural Art and Recreation Enrichment tax revenue.

Twitter: @donaldwmeyers