Published on December 16th, 2016 | by UC&D Magazine0
Breathtaking Eccles Theater project is the crown jewel in downtown Salt Lake’s new entertainment district.
Few projects have captured the public’s attention in recent memory quite like the stunning new George S. and Dolores Dore Eccles Theater in downtown Salt Lake City. The nearly three-year construction schedule wrapped up in September on this $117 million, world-class, Broadway- style theater, giving the Beehive State its signature project in a new entertainment district between Main and Regent Streets.
In addition to the main 2,500 seat hall, the theater provides several smaller venues and amenities for general public and local arts groups. Early in design, the project team facilitated public workshops with the local arts and community groups that requested additional project elements, including a 250-seat flexibly studio theater, a roof terrace and a winter garden.
The Eccles Theater was built in conjunction with the 111 Tower, a new downtown high rise office building. Shared lobby space between the tower and the theater opens the corner of First South and Main streets to become a new gathering space in Salt Lake City, contributing to the new and vibrant downtown. Construction of the two facilities showed how two of Utah’s top construction companies could work together in harmony, on separate projects, for the common objectives of meeting schedule and quality. Both companies and their subcontractors had to work through some very difficult and complex constructability issues, together, to simultaneously unveil two structures that will define Salt Lake’s skyline for decades to come.
On the east side of the theater, the completely renovated Regent Street takes the once dark, narrow and industrial thoroughfare, and transforms it into a light, wide, open and inviting gathering space with retail shops, dining establishments and the ability to close the street to vehicular traffic, allowing for community social events. Regent Street will also serve as a vital connector between the City Creek Development on the north and the Gallivan Center to the south.
“That block of downtown is the last block to be redeveloped,” said Steve Swisher, Principal in Charge for Garfield Traub Swisher Development (GTS), the public/ private developer of the theater. “When we came into develop this we wanted a cultural element. The thing we accomplished, not only did we create this destination theater, but a district that included all areas around the theater, the Regent Street district, the walkway on the plaza combined with the design really accomplishes this goal of being woven into the area and a new center for downtown attraction.”
Swisher said many major cities have developed theaters on the edge of town, while this project took “a completely different route – we wanted this to be an urban fabric of downtown. The theater really changes the ‘clock’ downtown where you’ll see activities start a little earlier and run later which will aid restaurants and other nightlife activities.”
Theater design, Swisher said, was developed with three narrow balconies close to the stage which creates a very inviting, rich, intimate space with adjustable acoustics. Public feedback since the theater opened October 21 has been stellar, with people commenting that this really is the next step for Salt Lake to be a mature, cultural city with a vibrant downtown nightlife – something sorely lacking in the past.
“Everybody looks at the entire project as much more than just the theater,” Swisher said.
Construction challenges were immense, according to Darcy Gray, Senior Project Manager for Sandy-based Layton Construction, not least of which was building the theater right next to the new 111 Main tower.
Demolition of the existing structures leading up to the construction of the theater was lengthy and complicated. A variety of structures, their sizes, and construction types made for a challenging experience. The abandoned printing facilities of the former Newspaper Agency Corporation, where the Deseret News and Salt Lake Tribune newspapers had been printed for decades, required the removal of old printing presses, printing ink storage tanks, and other hazardous materials.
Removal of the massive trusses from an existing building constructed in the 1960’s proved to be difficult, also serving as a very visual reminder of the complexity and dangers of the demolition work. It took the orchestrated efforts of iron workers and three crane operators to carefully cut and lift the steel trusses suspended six stories in the air.
In addition to structure debris removal, the site had to be mass excavated some 20-feet below grade to allow for a very large steel-reinforced mat footing (three to four feet thick) and foundations, as well as to reduce the overall height of the theater by building it with stage infrastructure below grade, to mesh with the construction of the neighboring cantilevered tower.
“I’ve done large theaters before… you’re aiming for how the community feels and aware of your responsibility for delivering a project that some folks have been working on for 20 years,” said Gray. “It was a big effort to hit the ground running on a really hot schedule. You look at what we did working next to 111 Main – Okland (GC on the tower) and Layton worked as somewhat ‘partners’ even though they were separate owners and different projects. Everyone played well together. Given what we were both trying to do, the potential risks involved, it went well for a such a constrained site. I thought very highly of Okland’s team.”
She continued, “Every person on our team poured themselves into the project – it’s that desire to produce an excellent product. The pressure and stress was huge, you do what you have to do to get it done. When I went to the grand opening, remembering all the struggles and strife we went through, I got a little teary. I’m incredibly proud of what the team did together.”