Planning Commission happy with design of residential tower to replace Utah Theater

The Salt Lake City Planning Commission voted 6-1 on Wednesday to approve the design review application for a 390 ft mixed-use 400-unit residential tower at 150 S Main, the site of the Redevelopment Agency-owned former Utah Pantages Theater.

The Commission listened to well over an hour of testimony from upwards of 30 callers, a number from outside the state and city. The overwhelming majority of them pleaded with the Commission to save the theater and reject the proposal.

Although planning department staff had clearly demarcated the Commission’s purview as approving or denying Hines development’s request for increased height (limited to 100 ft in code), the tone of the evening was set by fans of restoring the historic theater.

Some broke into the theater this week to have one last look.

Responding to questions from the public, Planning Commission Chair Brenda Case Scheer asked the developers whether they could design a building that incorporated the theater while building the tower above it. Bruce Baird, an attorney representing the project told the commissioners, “Hines has evaluated the cost of building over, around, and through the building and it simply is un-economic.”

“Preserving it and building over it sort of like Grand Central Station in New York simply doesn’t work from any standpoint – economic, engineering, logistic, parking, amenitzation, or the RDA agreement standpoint” Baird insisted.

In reviewing the proposed design, the Commission expressed its desire to see the mid-block “passage” that steps up to the publicly-accessible green space be activated. Hines’ Dusty Harris noted that the walkway will align with the mid-block that currently emerges from Regent Street to Main.

Images courtesy Dwell Design Studio and Hines development.

Speaking of the stepped-up walkway, Harris noted “Our intent is for the public to enjoy it. This is not something specific to our residents, this is for the public to enjoy.” He emphasized that the elevator to the walkway that leads to the green space will be visible and accessible from Main.

After closing the public hearing, questioning the applicants, and counting the 6-1 vote, Commission Chair Scheer summed up her position:

“It’s important that we hear, and it’s important that these sorts of comments continue. We all wish we could save some of the heritage that we have; but that is not the thing we are voting on here tonight.”

The developers have now cleared their approvals with the Planning Division, and now will work to finalize their purchase and sale agreement for the property with the city’s Redevelopment Agency.

Editor’s clarification: A previous version of this story noted that Planning Commission Chair Scheer failed to vote on the measure. According to rules, the Chair only votes in cases of ties.

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Posted by Luke Garrott

Luke Garrott, PhD, has published in The Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret News, and written features for the Salt Lake City Weekly City Guide and The West View. A former two-term councilman in Salt Lake City's District 4, he lives in Downtown Salt Lake City and grew up in the Chicago area.