For another day in the 103-year-old life of Salt Lake City’s dilapidated Utah theater, Wednesday featured drama worthy of its stage.
Michael Valentine, a movie buff who staged a brief hunger strike in June outside the closed performance hall, was arrested Wednesday night for trespassing after entering the building for a sit-in and film screening to protest the imminent demolition of the auditorium.
Another protester with Save the Utah Pantages, Casey McDonough, said Valentine was setting up chairs in the marbled entrance to the theater to show her self-produced documentary alleging the city’s corruption by sealing her fate, when police showed up.
The officers were cordial, McDonough said. They kicked everyone out of the vacant building and let them go, but took out Valentine in handcuffs and took him into custody, he said. Reservation records at the Salt Lake County Jail show that Valentine was eventually released without having to post bail.
“Finally free!” Valentine later joked after being released around 1 a.m. Thursday and walking five miles home.
Wednesday’s finale came hours later, when the City’s Planning Commission approved plans for a spectacular 31-story residential skyscraper, a mid-way walkway, a glass-walled lobby and of an elevated park to be built at 150 S. Main – after the theater has been demolished.
Nearly 30 witnesses pleaded with the city to save and reuse the building instead during the lengthy hearing. The committee’s 6-1 vote in favor of developer Hines’ designs is a major step towards years of tight negotiations over the high rise project – and the theater’s ultimate dismantling – with the city’s redevelopment agency.
Mayor Erin Mendenhall said the deal to hand over the theater to Hines for zero dollars in exchange for up to 40 affordable housing units, pocket park and other amenities is heading for closure – despite remaining opposition .
The committee’s debate, which took place late in the evening, instead focused on international developer Hines’ plans for the construction of the 150 Main Street apartments on the site, with 400 studios, one-bedroom apartments. , two and three bedroom, 8,400 square feet of land – commercial ground space, new pocket park and walkway aligned with Regent Street.
To be built on top of a parking lot, the park just north of the skyscraper lobby will be accessed by stairs or an elevator and will feature an expansive lawn, gardens, a sloping amphitheater and a wooded area, depending on the requirements. plans. Construction will also extend a westward median walkway into the block for public access to the Main Street park.
“Our intention is to make the space a place where everyone can go and enjoy,” said Dusty Harris, senior general manager of Hines, owner of the adjacent Kearns Building.
Supporters of the skyscraper say it will enliven that entire block of downtown and the adjacent intersection, create new green space in a neighborhood that needs it, and bring affordable apartments to a luxury tower block.
Senior urban planner David Gellner said that including utilities on the roof, the building would reach over 400 feet.
City employees recommended approval for the design, and several commission members said that while they sympathized with supporters of the theater, they welcomed Hines’ plans. The committee put conditions on lighting, signs, tree management and ensuring that the private park is accessible to the public before clearing it to continue.
“I’m so excited to have another large building in our downtown area,” said Sara Urquhart, a member of the commission, who lives half a block away. “It’s the vibrancy, the excitement that we see with more people on the streets, more people walking, more bars and restaurants opening.”
The old theater “is an eyesore and it is dangerous,” she said. “So, as a neighbor, I say, ‘Hallelujah! “”
The only vote against came from commissioner Amy Barry, who was concerned that the 150 South Main Apartments were too large and that the design of the ground floor did not sufficiently match the surrounding streetscape.
The hour-long hearing had little legal bearing on a decision to raze the decaying theater. This plan was implemented at the end of 2019 by the then mayor, Jackie Biskupski, and the city council. Still, people from across the country have called with renewed and passionate appeals to city officials and Hines to save the monument or integrate it into the new tower.
“We just want to express our disappointment and frustration with the city’s actions,” said Kelsey Moss, representing the nonprofit Preservation Utah, which has weighed in on the opposition several times. “We are deeply sad that the city is authorizing the demolition of such a dynamic and unique architectural space in the heart of downtown. “
Studies on ways to restore and reuse the city-owned theater came up with an estimated price tag of $ 35 million to $ 60 million, which elected leaders deemed far too expensive. And although it has been out of use for more than two decades and is seriously damaged by water, opponents of sending the theater into oblivion have denounced the loss of its character, of its architecture. distinct and historic charm.
Famous HGTV Host Nicole Curtis berated commission members on Wednesday for failing to stop the theater’s demise and find an environmentally friendly way to adapt and reuse it. Curtis, who specializes in the rehabilitation of buildings, also denounced the environmental impact that the shaving of the old neoclassical theater could have.
“You are all voting to have this all go to a landfill,” she told them via teleconference. “It’s anything but green. The greenest building is the one that is still standing.
Brenda Case Scheer, who heads the Planning Commission, noted that an existing city master plan for the area envisaged reallocating the theater, but a lawyer for Hines called it “fantasyland.”
“This design,” said attorney Bruce Baird, “just doesn’t work in the real world or from an economic standpoint.”
Mendenhall and the city’s GDR officials have said their final approval of the Hines deal is expected to take place in the coming months.