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Group looks to save SLC's Pantages Theater from demolition

Utah Pantages Cinematic Theatre.jpg
Posted at 4:47 PM, Apr 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-16 21:39:15-04

SALT LAKE CITY — After getting their first citizen's initiative proposal approved by Salt Lake City, the “Save the Utah Pantages” Coalition resubmitted their proposal to the city Friday.

The group is looking to save the century-old Utah Theater — originally called the Pantages Theater — at 114 S. Main Street from being demolished by developers who are in contract to buy the theater from the Salt Lake City Redevelopment Agency (RDA) who currently owns it.

Their original citizen's initiative, which was submitted in March, proposed designating the Pantages and nearby Capitol theaters as "landmark sites," which would protect the buildings from being demolished.

WATCH: As Utah grows, how much history do we save?

"The initiative is our effort to do what we think the city council and the mayor should've already done," said Casey O'Brien McDonough, a member of Save the Utah Pantages and sponsor of the initiative, "which is designate these theaters as irreplaceable historical structures in our city."

The McDonough family has a long history with the Pantages Theater. Casey said his family "has always understood it's too valuable to lose."

His father Gregory grew up going to shows and movies in the theater, which was one of the most lavish and important in the intermountain region at the time.

"My grandfather was the stage manager for the Pantages Theater when it was vaudeville," Gregory McDonough added. "I used to go to this theater, and it is absolutely gorgeous. In fact, when they redid the Capitol I thought, 'they're redoing the wrong theater.'"

Long past its days of glory, the Pantages Theater has been vacant for years. The Salt Lake City RDA purchased the property in 2009. In 2016, the Salt Lake City Council adopted its new Downtown Master Plan, which included an effort to "repurpose the Utah Theater as a cultural facility and activity generator," according to Save the Utah Pantages's original proposal.

In December of 2019, the RDA announced it was in the process of selling the building to developers who plan to build mixed-use housing and retail spaces on the site.

"We had always been under the impression the city was continuing their efforts to save the theater," Casey said.

"I'm more than a little annoyed that the city did not keep their promise to the man they bought this from when they said they would buy it and restore it," said Karel McDonough, Casey's mother and co-sponsor of the initiative.

The new proposal — which can be viewed in its entirety below — further expands on the future plans for the theater and adds a 'historical downtown theater district' designation.

"It also adds specific text in the zoning code about only being able to demolish either of the theaters for acts of God basically," Casey added. "So, from catastrophic fire or an earthquake."

Their proposal details plans to restore much of the theater to its former state and add features that would make it a community hub for years to come.

"Once the Pantages is restored, and the Capitol theater is right there, we'll really have an incredible arts and cultural hub right here," said Michael Valentine, a member of Save the Utah Pantages who offered to buy the theater from the city for $500,000 in March. "You know, in the vein of New York or California with their theater districts."

READ: Man offers to buy historic 'Utah Theater' from Salt Lake City

A press release sent out by Save the Utah Pantages on Friday includes renderings that show the site updated with extra theater and retail space, as well as a proposed affordable housing section on the top floor.

Utah Pantages Cinematic Theatre.jpg
Rendering of the proposed restoration of the Utah Theater (formerly Pantages Theater) in downtown Salt Lake City

The group now has until April 15, 2022 to gather the 8,000 signatures needed to place the initiative on the November 2023 ballot.

"It's one of the oldest and the most expensive of all the Pantages theaters, so like there's really no other theaters like this in the whole country," Valentine added. "Like it's just incredibly rare and just a treasure. It's really irreplaceable."

The RDA is currently under contract to sell the theater, and it is currently not clear how the new initiative proposal will impact the sale. FOX 13 has requested clarification from the Salt Lake City Recorder's office, but the office has not responded at the time this story was published.

Link: 'Save the Utah Pantages' websites