Abravanel Hall renovation funding to be determined as residents plead for preservation

May 21, 2024, 6:35 PM | Updated: May 23, 2024, 4:03 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — Funding for major Abravanel Hall renovations has not yet been identified as its future remains uncertain amid ongoing discussions over a proposed “sports, entertainment, cultural and convention district” surrounding a renovated Delta Center.

Salt Lake County Arts and Culture officials and others behind a new master plan outlining the future of the 45-year-old concert hall presented the findings of the report to members of the Salt Lake County Council on Tuesday afternoon. The report estimates that needed renovations would likely cost $199.4 million to $216.5 million, depending on a few variables.

However, the document was almost entirely complete by the time the Utah Legislature approved SB272 this year, setting up a revitalization district surrounding a basketball/hockey arena. Smith Entertainment Group, owner of the Utah Jazz and Utah’s National Hockey League franchise, proposed using a three-block section of the city for the district. The section includes Abravanel Hall.

SB272 authorizes Salt Lake City to approve up to a 0.5% sales tax increase to help pay for improvements to the district, but it’s unclear if that would include Abravanel Hall just yet. It’s also unclear if the county would set up a bond to pay for its needed upgrades.

“We don’t have an identified revenue stream,” said Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson, during a Salt Lake County Council meeting Tuesday afternoon, adding that the estimated renovations costs are about the same as tearing down and rebuilding the concert hall.

Lead architect of Abravanel Hall says demolition plans are motivated by disposable mentality

Wilson said last week that she’s “working diligently” to keep the venue “in its present form” as the district plans are sorted out.

Several people came to the county’s meeting to express their support for preserving Abravanel Hall, as well. The building is home to the Utah Symphony, which some likened to having a major league orchestra since it’s one of only 17 year-round orchestras in the country.

Some expressed worry over the risk of losing Utah Symphony musicians, while others said the hall offers a vital performance space for the Wasatch Front.

“If we demolish Abravanel Hall — thus risking the loss of our symphony — it means we’re also risking diminishing both the quality of arts education in our city, county and state and extinguishing the source of inspiration and support for artists who are growing up in Utah,” said Geneva Lawrence, of Salt Lake City.

Chamonix Larsen, president of the American Institute of Architects of Utah, read off a portion of a letter the organization sent the council about the issue. In it, the organization wrote that the community has been “loud and unified in its opposition to the possibility that the revered hall would be demolished or gutted.”

“Abravanel Hall is not a disposable building. It is not replaceable,” she said.

Expanding the district?

There was at least one plea to tie other ambitious projects to the list during the Salt Lake County Council meeting.

Frederick Jenny, of Salt Lake City, asked the council to consider adding the resident-led Rio Grande Plan to the zone. The project — estimated by Salt Lake City to cost at least $3 billion — would bury a section of the railroad lines that cut through Salt Lake City near the Delta Center. Advocates say that would repair a major divide between the east and west sides of the city.

“Barriers extend more than just the Salt Palace,” he said. “The railroad tracks divide our city in half and prevent people from being able to use the facilities that the east as compared to the west side.”

It’s one of multiple projects near the Delta Center. Salt Lake City also has plans tied to improvements to historic Japantown and Main Street, both of which border the proposed entertainment district.

Salt Lake City Council Chair Victoria Petro told KSL on Tuesday that she’s not aware of any discussions over anything beyond the three blocks that Smith Entertainment Group is focused on; however, she says that Smith Entertainment Group has been flexible to new ideas since discussions began last month.

“We know money is a limiting factor; resources are a limiting factor, so at some point, we’re going to have to prioritize (projects),” she said.

An ongoing process

Wilson said Tuesday that she believes there’s a “sense of urgency” for Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County and Smith Entertainment Group to reach a district deal by the Sept. 1 deadline outlined in SB272. She believes that the quick deadline is creating confusion over what will be included in the final plan.

Nothing is final yet either, Petro adds. She said the city welcomes all the feedback it can get so that the final agreement works for as many people as possible. If a deal is reached, she said it’s also possible that it could get amended in the future based on new needs or unforeseen challenges.

Of course, Salt Lake City leaders are also balancing the agreement with its annual budget process, making for a chaotic race to meet both the deadline for the 2025 fiscal year on July 1 and the district agreement.

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall unveiled a $475 million budget proposal earlier this month. Petro said the City Council is working on finalizing what she says will be the “least sexy budget” that focuses heavily on major needs over ambitious projects. That’s because they want the city’s finances to be prepared for “big catalytic” projects such as a complete downtown overhaul.

“We need to make sure that our foundation is solid so when these catalytic opportunities come, they’re being laid onto a firm foundation (and) not one that’s still teetering from a COVID crisis,” she said.

The City Council is tentatively scheduled to vote on a final budget next month. It could vote on an agreement with Smith Entertainment Group as early as July 2. The deal would have to be approved by a new state commission after that before the City Council votes on whether to adopt the sales tax increase.

This story will be updated.

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Abravanel Hall renovation funding to be determined as residents plead for preservation