Will Abravanel Hall in Salt Lake City be demolished? -Deseret News

Downtown Salt Lake City is on the verge of a huge change. And while specific plans have not yet been publicly announced, Utah residents had their first opportunity Tuesday to voice their opinions to the two government agencies that will play an integral role in the capital's future.

Both the Salt Lake City Council and Salt Lake County Council heard hearings from residents in two separate meetings discussing a proposed sales tax increase to fund the project, including the renovation of the Delta Center, and the future of Abravanel Hall, the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art and Japantown.

Smith Entertainment Group is proposing to invest $3 billion to redevelop the area around Delta Center as a sports, entertainment, cultural and convention district with retail, restaurants, food service, multifamily housing and other entertainment and cultural facilities, as well as parking. That includes remodeling the arena over multiple offseasons to accommodate both the NBA's Utah Jazz and Utah's new NHL team. Jazz owners Ryan and Ashley Smith bought the Arizona Coyotes and moved the team to Salt Lake City last month.

“This is about an opportunity to redesign and revitalize our downtown community and create an incredible urban core. None of this happens without all four elements coming together,” Mike Maughan, director at SEG, told the city council.

Maughan said the Jazz, hockey team and other events at the Delta Center are expected to have a $600 million economic impact on Salt Lake City each year, citing a 2022 GSBS Consulting report and analysis by DA Davidson from 2024, which is reviewed by Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute.

SEG wants to lease two additional blocks east of the arena from Salt Lake County, including the Salt Palace Convention Center and Abravanel Hall. In documents filed with the city, SEG said the project could include comprehensive rehabilitation, urban renewal and reconstruction, including rerouting, permanently closing and/or bridging some surrounding streets. The company also wants to revise zoning regulations to remove maximum height restrictions in the project area and designate arenas, helipads and parking lots as permitted uses.

The future of the 45-year-old Abravanel Hall in particular has been called into question in recent weeks. The planned downtown district could also impact a historically and culturally significant street called Japantown.

Proposed sales tax increase

Earlier this year, the Utah Legislature, with support from Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County, passed a law allowing the creation of a downtown revitalization zone. Under the law, the city could increase its current sales tax rate of 7.75% by half a percent – up to 8.25% within a maximum of 30 years – to finance the construction or renovation of a sports arena. The citywide tax increase could raise about $1 billion.

Dozens of residents, members of the arts, tourism and business communities and others expressed varying views on the proposal. Some opposed a sales tax increase to subsidize the project, arguing that it would only benefit billionaires. Others told the council it would build on and encourage economic investment not just in Salt Lake City but in the region. The hotel and tourism industries favor the creation of the district to boost convention business. Some welcomed a new vision for downtown.

“Is the Smith Entertainment Group project really your top and only priority for spending valuable additional sales tax revenue in our city?” former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson asked the council. If the tax increase raised $1 billion, residents would prioritize improving air quality, eliminating homelessness, expanding open space, providing affordable housing and saving the Great Salt Lake over subsidizing a “billionaire for his hockey arena.” and its so-called revitalization zone. he said, earning applause from the crowd.

Several residents noted the lack of concrete plans and said the process was moving too quickly.

Maughan admitted that things were moving quickly.

“But a quick process doesn’t mean it’s not a conscious process,” he said. “This tax would be the first step. But to be clear, this process will be deep, deliberate and iterative.”

The city council has set July 2 as the date for the final decision on the creation of the downtown district and the increase in sales tax.

Future of Abravanel Hall

Many people chanted “Save Abravanel Hall!” and “UMOCA Matters” called on city leaders not to demolish the Utah Symphony Orchestra home, including a woman who burst into opera singing and Carolyn Abravanel, whose late husband stands atop the building.

Named after Maurice Abravanel, who served as conductor of the Utah Symphony for 30 years, the hall grew out of the 1975 voter-approved bicentennial celebration. It was built on land donated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and opened in 1979. Improvements have been made to the interior and exterior of the building over the years, most recently in 2017.

The decision over Abravanel Hall rests with Salt Lake County, which owns and operates the venue, and not with Salt Lake City. But residents told City Council members that doesn't absolve them from playing a role in the future.

Maughan told the city council that SEG will support whatever the county does. “We strongly believe that a concert hall and the arts must remain on site and that this will continue to be an important part of what we plan to do with the sports, entertainment, cultural and community precinct,” he said.

Early Tuesday, a group of architects, musicians, opera members, county facilities and arts and culture leaders, and the Salt Lake County Mayor's Office presented a renovation plan to the Salt Lake County Council that showed the venue is outdated and in need of significant upgrades. It noted that the outdoor space is underused despite its prominent downtown location and the hall lacks connectivity to the Salt Palace and Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, as well as other attractions. The master plan was developed last year before the NHL's arrival, and talks about revitalizing downtown became a hot topic.

The plan estimates the cost of renovating the building at $199 million to $219 million, including performance space, front area upgrades and expansions, rear area improvements, event space expansions and plaza upgrades. Renovating the hall to reduce earthquakes would mean a further 10%.

Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson said she wanted to keep the hall “in its current form” rather than tearing it down and rebuilding it. She reiterated that Tuesday, saying county leaders had “months and months” to consider options for the building as well as Japantown.

Residents told the Salt Lake County Council at a meeting Tuesday that they oppose demolishing the home of the Utah Symphony Orchestra, saying it would jeopardize the orchestra's future and discourage young musicians. The Utah Symphony is one of 17 full-time symphonies in the country.

“It’s a treasure and we would hate to lose it,” Millcreek Arts Council member Angel Vice said of Abravanel Hall.

Salt Lake County, which has only $8 million in its deferred maintenance budget for Abravanel Hall, does not have the funds to renovate the building. But Wilson said there could be “some money on the table” as part of the broader plan for the entertainment district. Wilson also said upgrading the venue would cost about the same as building a new one.

County Council member Dave Alvord called Abravanel Hall a “cultural icon” and “jewel” of the city. “How we preserve it is not entirely clear today,” he said.

Revitalize Japantown

The proposed downtown district could also impact a historically and culturally significant street called Japantown. Construction of the Salt Palace in 1969 displaced the Japanese community that once spanned 100 South, leaving only a small portion of the street west of the current Salt Palace Convention Center, which bears the honorary name of Japantown Street. The Buddhist Salt Lake Temple and the Japanese Christ Church are the last remaining landmarks.

Marisa Eng, who said she grew up in the Salt Lake Buddhist Temple, said the revitalization effort is an opportunity for the city, county and SEG to engage the Japanese American community as key stakeholders in the downtown area to “tear down walls and bygones.” to correct injustice.” She also said she was concerned about the speed of the project and that it needed to be done carefully.

City and county leaders have expressed a desire to include Japantown in the revitalization project.

Maughan said Japantown is currently greeted by loading docks at the back of the Salt Palace. He said SEG has “strong intentions” of replacing the loading docks with street-facing space to revitalize the area.

The Crossroads Urban Center sent a letter to the City Council last week saying it is “imperative” that any new housing around Delta Center include affordable housing units for low-income residents. The proposed project could either be a model for incorporating mixed-income housing into a mixed-use development or a lesson in why housing affordability concerns are being ignored, the center posted on X.

“If all taxpayers, including struggling renters, will help fund the creation of this district, then it is only fair to require that some of the housing within it be affordable,” the letter said. “It is long past time to stop giving our city away to developers without expecting any tangible benefit to our community, especially low- and middle-income residents who struggle to survive each month.”

SEG has proposed preserving the additional tax revenue for 30 years. 1% of taxes collected would be deducted as an administrative fee to the city and an unspecified amount agreed to with Salt Lake County for renovation of the Salt Lake Palace Convention Center. SEG also says the project may require financing through tax increments and the creation of a public infrastructure district.

The Delta Center is currently part of a property tax rebate agreement with the Salt Lake City Redevelopment Agency that began in 2019 and runs through 2040. To date, SEG has received approximately $3.5 million of the maximum $22.7 million during this period. SEG is also leasing the block on which the Delta Center is located from the RDA and is proposing a new 99-year lease on existing terms.

Anna Harden

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