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West Jordan city council reevaluating plans for cultural arts center

The West Jordan City Council is reevaluating their plans for the construction of a cultural arts center. Kim Rolfe, who was mayor of West Jordan at the time, announced in October 2017 that the city would build a cultural arts center in the City of West Jordan to provide a venue for theater, choral, symphonic, and visual arts. In November, the city broke ground for the cultural arts center in Veterans Memorial Park at 1855 W. 7800 S. Months went by without any progress being made beyond fencing off the construction site, and by January 2018, Rolfe informed the public that construction was to be delayed until spring 2018 to save on construction costs. However, spring came and went, and the site remained as silent as the city council was on the subject of why nothing was happening.

Finally, in July 2018, City Manager David Brickey sent a letter to the West Jordan Arts Council stating that the city had found out that UDOT was planning an easement of 7800 S. that would make the planned site for the cultural arts center unusable, and the city was “abandoning the site.” “We regret the city was unaware of this easement when the plans were drawn up and the site selected,” he stated in the letter dated July 26, 2018.

According to Brickey, alternate sites and building options are being considered, but the plans to build a cultural arts center are financially weaker than they were in November. “The building design has changed and the current estimate is now $11.3 million versus an initial $8.1 million.” Brickey also stated that Salt Lake County had offered a $2 million grant in exchange for some control over the facility, conditions that Brickey said were “unfavorable to the city.” Funds raised so far stand at about $6.5 million.

Brickey was careful to state that the city council “has not changed its position in support of the Arts in West Jordan.”

Brickey ended the letter by saying the city is currently working through its Truth in Taxation process and would be asking input from city residents via a survey about how they would like city funds spent.

City Councilmember Alan Anderson elaborated on the situation in an update he posted to a Facebook discussion group dedicated to updating the public on the progress of the cultural arts center. “The 7800 S. site had gone through the process of identifying a site, setting plans and holding a ground breaking. Then, during the process of developing the fundraising plan, it was made known to the city about an easement on the property by UDOT. Not knowing about it before hand is on the city. I am sorry about that. Not all the boxes were checked, nor the i’s dotted. Things happen, people are not perfect even if working for a government agency. In July, it was determined collectively by the city that the effort to build there should be abandoned due to a variety of issues related to this easement.”

Regarding the $2 million grant from Salt Lake County, Anderson clarified that the city is working with the county to improve the conditions of the grant to better meet the city’s needs. That would increase the available funds to $8.5 million. He also stated that a parcel of land not currently owned by the city is being considered, but the city would be short $4.5-$5 million (assuming the $2 million grant from the county is included).

Anderson laid out several options being explored. One option would be to enter into an agreement with West Jordan Middle School to use their auditorium for rehearsals, storage, and performances. Anderson did not, however, explain how the visual arts organizations would be served by such an arrangement, and some commented in the Facebook discussion that this option would not allow for public visibility of the arts organizations or the development of an identity for the arts organizations. “[To] John Q. Public, the minute he sees West Jordan Middle School as the location of an event, he’s going to assume it’s a middle school production. We need visibility and identity, neither of which we can get hidden away in a borrowed middle school,” said West Jordan resident Travis Green, who serves as the Marketing Specialist for Sugar Factory Playhouse.

Another option would be building on the site where the sugar factory used to be. Anderson mentioned that in 2010 the city council had discussed building a sprung structure on the site as a cheaper option than a brick-and-mortar edifice. Anderson pointed out that, although it’s a big enough area and is already owned by the city, it isn’t on a main road, which would reduce its visibility to the public. Responses to this suggestion were mixed in the discussion group, with some expressing a willingness to make do with a sprung option, while others were less enthusiastic.

Finally, Anderson discussed the possibility of waiting an estimated 2-3 years more to procure more funds to build the cultural arts center as originally proposed at a different site. This option, which would require further patience on the part of the arts community and residents, would also come with political risk. “For the politicos,” Anderson warned, “there will be an election of a new mayor and four district council seats and a new at-large council seat in 16 months,” seeming to imply that the overall attitude of city leadership could possibly shift to a less favorable position for the arts during that time.

Those interested in following the discussion can join the Facebook discussion group West Jordan Cultural Arts Center – Building a Strong Arts Foundation.

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