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Will Utah leaders help fund Abravanel Hall and Salt Palace renovations? Mayor Jenny Wilson has hopes.

Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson said that she is in talks with legislators and Utah Gov. Spencer Cox about the potential for some state funding to help reconfigure the Salt Palace convention center as part of a massive revitalization of downtown


  • May 22 2024
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Will Utah leaders help fund Abravanel Hall and Salt Palace renovations? Mayor Jenny Wilson has hopes.
Will Utah leaders help fund Abravanel Hall and Salt Palace renovations? Mayor Jenny Wilson has hopes.

Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson said that she is in talks with legislators and Utah Gov. Spencer Cox about the potential for some state funding to help reconfigure the Salt Palace convention center as part of a massive revitalization of downtown Salt Lake City and believes there might also be funding to renovate Abravanel Hall.

“I think, having talked to many in the Legislature, the governor and others, there’s a real interest in investing in the broader entertainment area now that hockey is here, knowing that there’ll be additional revenue coming downtown that we’ll be able to capitalize on for the future,” Wilson said during a council meeting Tuesday.

“We’re in a unique moment in time where there may be some money on the table as we look at the broader entertainment district,” she said.

Wilson said she had not talked to the governor specifically about Abravanel Hall, which a master plan presented to the council Tuesday estimated is in need of as much as $237 million in renovations to bring it into compliance with code and make the space more functional.

While the venues are located in downtown Salt Lake City, the county owns the buildings.

Several residents came out to the meeting to urge the council to stick with the iconic 45-year-old concert hall, rather than tear it down and rebuild.

Those supporters included Chamonix Larsen, president of the Utah chapter of The American Institute of Architects, who read a letter from the AIA Utah board urging the council to preserve the building.

“The community has been loud and unified in its opposition to the possibility that the revered hall would be demolished or gutted,” the letter said. “As design professionals, we adamantly oppose such a move: Abravanel Hall is not a disposable building. It is not replaceable. And it is beloved.”

Abravenal Hall Statement by Robert Gehrke on Scribd

The board said the price tag for renovating the building was “jaw-dropping and seems out of line” according to members who had designed and renovated similar performing arts centers.

“We are confident that despite higher construction costs, a renovated concert hall will be less expensive than building new,” the letter said.

Wilson said later in the meeting that the county only has some rough estimates on what it would cost to build a new venue, but they are also in the range of $200 million and $250 million.

In addition to the Abravanel Hall renovations, city and county leaders have expressed interest in reopening 100 South, which currently dead-ends at the Salt Palace. That would mean putting the road through a portion of the convention hall, which, while there are not yet cost estimates, would carry an enormous price tag.

“We’re developing concepts right now around an entertainment district,” Wilson said. “Nothing is set in stone, but we’re looking at the need for maximizing our Salt Palace and perhaps some state revenue for that, or a revenue stream identified by the state for that. The same goes for [Abravanel Hall].”

Wilson was not specific on what kind of funding might be available to the county — whether it be state arts funding, some other tax revenue or possibly the Legislature allowing the county to raise taxes, as it did with Salt Lake City, to pay for the project.

Work on the master plan began more than a year ago — well before the prospect of a National Hockey League team and the accompanying sports and entertainment district coming to the area were considered.

The major changes needed to Abravanel Hall, according to a recent report, fell into several different categories:

  • The building is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, with slopes that are too steep and challenges accessing the hall are difficult for people in wheelchairs;
  • The areas both in the lobby and backstage are undersized for the number of guests, staff and performers that use the building, creating congestion and potential safety concerns;
  • The heating and cooling systems are reaching the end of their useful life and need major upgrades
  • The hall only has a fire suppression system over the stage — not throughout the rest of the venue;
  • The system for accessing the building doesn’t meet security and safety standards;
  • Technological upgrades, like better networking and projectors, could help when the symphony plays scores along with films and other similar events.

2024 Abravanel Hall Master ... by Robert Gehrke

Angel Vice, who serves on the Millcreek Arts Council, said the county needs more spaces for the performing arts and pleaded with the council to commit to renovating Abravanel Hall.

“It’s a gift to our community and I hope you all recognize that. The size is perfect. … Abravanel Hall has no bad seats,” she said. “Please, please, please know it is a treasure and we would hate to lose it.”

Wilson said that the reason she recently came out in support of preserving the venue rather than rebuilding the hall was that she heard what constituents wanted.

“The community spoke,” she said. “I mean it was really heartening to me to see hundreds of people, thousands of people, saying, ‘Yes, we care about this building.’”

Council Member Dave Alvord said he considers Abravanel “a jewel, a real treasure to the Salt Lake Valley,” and is grateful the council is discussing how to preserve it. He said the council needs a better understanding of the costs of seismic upgrades — currently estimated at 10% of the overall expense — and encouraged planners to come up with their top priorities for the project.

“It may be tough for you all to come up with priorities, but sometimes, if a project is too expensive, that can be the enemy of actually getting it done,” he said. “So if we could perhaps prioritize all of those and say what are our top three, what would $100 million look like for this project? It may be more likely to get done sooner for you all.”

Wilson said that while plans are moving quickly for the sports and entertainment district because the state received a hockey team sooner than anticipated, there is less urgency to make decisions regarding Abravanel Hall.

“We won’t be in a position as at the county without additional revenue to really do anything — Salt Palace, Abravanel, etcetera,” she said. “We still need to engage with legislators, with the state, with others going forward. … We’re talking months and months to come as opposed to days and weeks for us to make these calls.”

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