By Jenniffer Wardell, The Davis Clipper
There’s a new theater growing in the heart of downtown Salt Lake.
The new George S. and Dolores Dore Eccles Theatre, located at 131 S. Main Street, is expected to open to the public this coming October. Designed with the needs of Broadway tours in mind, the new theater is expected to expand the opportunities for both local and national performing groups in Salt Lake.
“It allows us to have more date availability,” said Katherine Potter, senior advisor for the Salt Lake City Redevelopment Agency. “We’ve often had local and touring groups bumping into each other.”
Designed by Pelli Clark Pelli Architects and HKS architects, the building has a loading dock and larger backstage area required by Broadway touring shows who often bring along complicated sets. It also has a 2,500 seat theater, larger than Capitol Theatre.
“It’s more in line with the economic model,” of the Broadway tours and other large touring performance groups, said Potter.
According to Sean Morgan, director of planning for developer Garfield Traub Swisher, the performance hall was designed to evoke the canyons in southern Utah. He also said it was designed to feel different from the rest of the building’s architecture.
“The design is very intentional in terms of the way people feel when they’re coming into a performance hall,” he said. “You’re coming from a world of reality into a world of make-believe, so the theater transitions from the hard lines and grids in the lobby to the softer curves of the performance hall. They tried to make it so the structured world outside disappears as you walk in.”
There are also several elements focusing on patron ease and comfort, including the fact that the building has extra women’s restrooms and the men’s and women’s restrooms are located together for convenience. Also, Potter said the seats have been carefully tested to be as comfortable as possible.
“They’re definitely more comfortable than the seats in older buildings, which were designed for much smaller people,” she said, referencing some of the city’s historic theaters. “They offer quite a bit of leg room.”
The theater also includes a smaller, 100-150 seat “black box” theater, with adjustable seating that can allow for traditional (one-sided) or thrust (three-sided) staging. They can also be removed entirely and be replaced with tables, or used without any seating at all.
“Artistic programming will always have first priority,” said Potter. “But it’s a flexible space, open to a mix of different types of programming.”
The lobby was designed as a public area, part of a walkway that designers expect will be used by pedestrians looking for a shortcut through the block and those who will work in the office building being constructed next door. In addition, there is a café in the theater’s lobby that will be open for breakfast and lunch.
“The goal is that this is a space for people to visit through the day,” said Morgan.
The lobby will also be the place for some of the public art works that are and will be incorporated into the theater and surrounding area. Two that are already in place are a colorful glass balustrade by Rhode Island artist Paul Housberg, and an artwork inlaid in the floor by Utah artist Laura Sharp Wilson.
“Salt Lake City is unique in that, for public buildings, 1 percent of the budget has to go for public art,” Morgan said. “We wanted it to be in the public area, so you don’t have to be a patron to see it.”
Organizers are planning a ribbon cutting on Oct. 21, as well as a public open house on Oct. 22. The Oct. 22 open house is free, and will include performances at locations throughout the theater.