In the plot, conservationists are suing Salt Lake City to save the Utah theater
They accuse the leaders of violating state law and seek to prevent the destruction of downtown locations.
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Supporters of Utah’s historic theater are suing Salt Lake City and its redevelopment agency in another bid to save the downtown relic from being bulldozed.
Citing the name of the once-century-old venue, a group called Friends of the Utah Pantages Cinematic Theater joined two townspeople and two business owners in the lawsuit filed Thursday in 3rd District court, trying to strike down the sale of the site by the city to developers wishing to erect a residential skyscraper there.
Historic curators, moviegoers and other residents allege city officials failed to comply with Utah law requiring further study and reporting to state officials before selling the disused property of the 144 S. Main to promoter Hines last year.
This latest lawsuit asks a judge to void the deal while seeking to stop the city from issuing permits to demolish the performance hall.
Because of the dilapidated performance hall’s eligibility for listing on the National Register of Historic Places and because city officials invested public funds to raze or rehabilitate it, the lawsuit says the city and its RDA were legally required under state code to assess and disclose the potential adverse effects of their projects on the State Historic Preservation Office.
“Since the buyer [Hines] intends to demolish the theater in order to replace it with luxury apartments,” the 12-page lawsuit states, “there is no doubt that the undertaking will have a negative effect on the theater, which is a historic property.
“We think this is a strong case,” co-plaintiff Casey McDonough said Friday.
A city spokesperson said attorneys were reviewing the case and declined to comment further. A spokesperson for the city’s GDR did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Friday.
Joining McDonough as plaintiffs are residents Michael Patton and Ibrahim Fall, owner of Twist Roots, and Derek Bleazard, owner of Beckett & Robb. Both outlets leased ground floor space in properties adjacent to the theater, but have since had their leases terminated by Hines and have been forced to relocate.
Public outcry has erupted on and off since the sale of the theater was signed off in late 2019 by then-mayor Jackie Biskupski in the final weeks of his administration.
His successor, Mayor Erin Mendenhall, has since defended the deal and the city council’s ensuing, anguished decision to approve it and not spend tens of millions of dollars renovating the theater. They backed selling the site for redevelopment, after several publicly funded studies showed its reuse was not economically viable.
The RDA, the city’s main player in the deal, transferred ownership of the $4 million theater to Houston-based Hines and Salt Lake City-based 160 Main LLC. in November for zero dollars, in exchange for Hines including affordable apartments, a park pocket and other amenities in the project.
Hines is currently pursuing plans to build a 31-story luxury tower dubbed 150 Main Street where the deteriorating theater now stands. His plans with the city also include the recovery and repurposing of key elements of the neoclassical building, which the city purchased in 2010.
The same group now suing to preserve Utah’s theater has fought city and RDA officials at nearly every stage of their plans.
Patton, who also uses the surname Valentine, chained himself to the front doors of the theater on a hot day last June as part of a campaign to denounce the actions of the city.
He and others point to several other neoclassical theaters across the country, also built by Alexander Pantages, which have been restored to their historic glory – a prospect city leaders have deemed too expensive.
An application to have the theater listed on the Historic Register was approved by the city’s own Historic Monuments Commission in November. This request is now pending before the National Park Service – although Hines, as the owner of the property, has the legal power to block it.