LOCAL NEWS

Local musicians react to Smith group proposal regarding Abravanel Hall’s future

May 7, 2024, 7:32 PM

SALT LAKE CITY — Although the future of Maurice Abravanel Hall has yet to be determined, the Utah Symphony is included in “a potential sports, entertainment, culture and convention district,” Salt Lake County leaders say as discussions over downtown’s future outside of the Delta Center heats up.

Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson issued a lengthy statement on Tuesday, confirming that her office has been involved in conversations with the Utah Symphony and Smith Entertainment Group over an entertainment district outside of the Delta Center.

Smith Entertainment Group, owner of the Utah Jazz and the state’s new National Hockey League franchise, requested two blocks east of the arena to build the district through a process created by the Utah Legislature earlier this year.

“While much public attention has focused on a new sports arena as part of the downtown revitalization proposal, all parties are aligned in confirming that fine arts and culture will continue to have a strong and vital presence in the downtown core,” Wilson said. “The vision for a revitalization project is in the earliest stages and no decisions on the future of Abravanel Hall have been made.”

Several Utah Symphony orchestra musicians attended Tuesday’s city council meeting to learn more about the potential impacts the plan could have on their concert venue.

“Abravanel Hall is so much more than just a building,” said cellist Matthew Johnson. “It’s where families congregate and have experiences. And it’s also, in the case of the Utah Symphony, it’s our most important musical instrument of all.”

The musicians said they had very little information on the revitalization plan.

“I was in rehearsal for Utah Youth [Symphony] with Barb Scowcroft, our conductor,” said 18-year-old musician Jack Clark, who went to the meeting. “At break, she told us about the possibility of it being torn down. I felt very betrayed in a lot of ways.”

Clark started an online petition to save the venue. As of Tuesday, it had more than 19,300 signatures.

The young musician said he’s in favor of potential plans to create a downtown district, but he said he would be opposed to tearing down Abranavel Hall.

“I am really excited about it, I think it’s awesome,” Clark said. “And I think we as a community can work together to save Abravanel Hall and still have the Delta Center be renovated.”

Wilson added that the county and Utah Symphony were already working on a “comprehensive master plan” to address renovation needs for the 45-year-old concert hall and she believes the new district could “accelerate” those plans.

“I think that improvements would be wonderful,” Utah Symphony violinist Rebekah Johnson said. “I am aware that there are (Americans with Disability Act) things that need to be done, and the heating and cooling needs improving as well, but I don’t know about the cost because I haven’t, I can’t assess the cost and what it’s going to cost to do all of that and the benefits of one course of action over another.”

After the city council meeting, leaders and stakeholders told KSL TV the deferred maintenance for building would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. They said the county is still considering renovations or rebuilding it.

Johnson has been performing in Abravanel Hall since it opened.

“It was so gorgeous and so just exceeded expectations completely because it was so beautiful, and so much extra trouble had been taken to make it extraordinary, like the gold leaf and the chandeliers,” she said.

Johnson said its acoustics help make a sound that cannot simply be recreated.

“When we were put into the hall, Maurice Abravanel insisted that the sound engineer acoustician Cyril Harris be talked to first before the architect,” she said. “The acoustician was the first person talked to in designing the hall, and then the exterior was designed around his acoustics.”

Matthew Johnson said the symphony was prepared to move to another venue while renovations were completed, but he said his preference is to stay at Abravanel Hall long-term.

“It’s such a warm, clear, special sound that that we have in that hall,” he said. “And we know that when we’re on stage performing, that our music will be received to the audience in that manner.”

Wilson’s statement was released just ahead of a Salt Lake City Council meeting, where Smith Entertainment Group officials provided more details about the company’s proposal for downtown Salt Lake City under SB272, the bill that creates a downtown “revitalization zone” surrounding the Delta Center.

Smith Entertainment Group filed its application to partner with the city on a zone on April 4, about two weeks before acquiring the Arizona Coyotes in a deal that relocated the NHL franchise to Utah. But the document’s details were mostly kept private until Salt Lake City responded to public records requests on Friday.

The company requested a 99-year lease extension with the Redevelopment Agency of Salt Lake City to remain on the block that’s home to the Delta Center, according to the seven-page application.

It also asked for a similar lease with Salt Lake County for two blocks east of the arena, which would require a remodel of the Salt Palace Convention Center.

Smith also asked the Salt Lake City Council to approve the full 30-year 0.5% sales and use tax increase that SB272 also authorizes, while asking to collect “the full amount” it generates.

Legislative fiscal analysts say the tax increase in Salt Lake City could generate $54 million annually. The application outlines other public funding and rezoning requests to set up redevelopment near the arena.

The plan also put into question the future of what’s left of Salt Lake City’s historic Japantown, which was partially dismantled to make way for the Salt Palace Convention Center. Its future is also expected to be addressed during Tuesday’s meeting.

The City Council is also expected to set up a public hearing on the matter, which will be held on May 21.

“Some things need to be done, but it’s a glorious space,” said Rebekah Johnson. “I think the benefits far outweigh what needs to be fixed.”

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Local musicians react to Smith group proposal regarding Abravanel Hall’s future