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Murray Journal

Curtain goes back up on Murray Theater renovation

Jan 27, 2022 01:04PM ● By Shaun Delliskave

The Murray Theater may be seeing new productions next year. (Shaun Delliskave/City Journals)

By Shaun Delliskave | [email protected]

When COVID strikes the performing arts, it delivers a dramatic blow, and the Murray Theater was no exception. Finally, however, after years of being shelved, the renovation of the Murray Theater received positive news as Salt Lake County approved funding to restart the project.

In 2015, Murray City purchased the 83-year-old venue to function as an indoor performing arts facility. The city received Tourism, Recreation, Culture & Convention (TRCC) funding in 2018, and the city made conceptual designs to start construction in 2020. 

Cost estimates put the renovation at $7.5 million. Murray and Salt Lake County committed $3.7 million in grant funding, and the city was hoping to fund the remainder from its budget and community donations.

Of course, in 2020, TRCC revenue evaporated overnight. TRCC funding comes from restaurants, car rentals and hotel room taxes. Due to the decrease in revenue projections, the county could not guarantee its obligation and withdrew from the agreement.

With TRCC breathing life again into old projects, it will restore Murray Theater support in 2022. 

“We have not hired a firm to do another cost estimate, just because we’re to the point where we’re moving forward with the theater, but we estimate that the theater cost is gonna be right around $10 million,” Murray City Parks and Recreation Director Kim Sorenson told the Jan. 18 Committee of the Whole meeting.

Murray City has contracted with Pathway Associates to help raise funds. Notably, that firm helped raise $38 million for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Theater in Salt Lake City. Costs to retain Pathways will be $5,000 a month or 10% of fundraising earnings.

The city plans to sell naming rights, among all things, to generate money. 

“There’s quite a few naming opportunities for the theater, including the theater lobby, the auditorium, the north lounge, the ticket office, the green room (performer’s dressing room). And then we’re also putting together a package that’ll include selling seats. So, people will be able to put their names on the back of a seat,” Sorenson said.

One thing that won’t likely be considered is changing the Murray Theater’s name. However, Sorenson said it was not entirely out of the picture. If a substantial amount were offered, he would approach the city council with the proposal for an additional name to the marquee.

Additionally, the city plans to approach the legislature for funds to cover the remaining cost gap. Will those funds build additional parking for the theater? No.

“Parking is not an issue. If you’ve gone to other theaters in Salt Lake City or the Egyptian Theatre in Park City, you will park a lot farther away than this parking lot (Murray City Hall),” Sorenson said.

According to Sorenson, when the city vacates the current city hall, it can require the new tenant or builder to provide parking for theater patrons. 

As for programming, theater patrons can expect musicals and local school productions.

“I would like to do three musicals over there—spring, Christmas, and fall. Then we do have some arts education pieces that we could use it for,” Murray City Cultural Arts Manager Lori Edmunds said.

Murray City has been using Hillcrest Junior High’s recently built auditorium to host performances that fall outside its summer season, such as the Missoula Children’s Theater. Edmunds also hopes to screen films and partner with local film festivals. But Edmunds reminded the Committee of the Whole that the theater has some drawbacks to hosting concerts.

“We have to remember that the sound system for a movie theater is much different and not appropriate for what we need for bands like David Archuleta or Alex Boyé. We’d still need to bring in a sound system, and that’s costly,” Edmunds said.

So when can Murrayites step into their refurbished theater?

“Construction is estimated to take about eight months. Now, this is a best-case scenario, and we all know that this building has not been a best-case scenario over the last couple of years. But it is possible that we would be opening the theater in the spring of 2023,” Sorenson said.