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West Valley City Journal

The fight is on to save West Valley Performing Arts Center

Jun 06, 2024 10:28AM ● By Tom Haraldsen

The West Valley Performing Arts Center could be closed once the current season ends this fall due to high subsidies and needed costs for repairs. (Photo courtesy of WV Arts–Save the West Valley Performing Arts Center)

Just before the West Valley City Council met on May 7, the public learned of the city’s plan to close the West Valley Performing Arts Center when the current season concludes this fall. Since that announcement, leaders have heard from hundreds of residents either in person at council meetings or through emails and social media voicing their objections to that decision and citing the importance of the theater to the community. Many of them are taking action and asking for the city to reconsider.

The proposed closure came after new city manager Ifo Pili looked at reports of the subsidies West Valley has put into the center over the past three years, as well as a feasibility study about the costs of needed repairs to the building. Pili also serves as president of the West Valley Arts Foundation Board of Directors. 

“The large part of the equation is the building, but the other part is operations,” he said when addressing residents at the May 7 meeting. “It was never supposed to be totally sustainable, just like a park isn’t, because there’s a value that’s created in the city. However, it wasn’t supposed to continue on a trajectory that continues to bleed money from the general fund.”

He said in fiscal year 2021, the city provided $600,000 in subsidies. In fiscal year 2022, that grew to $1.2 million and is projected to reach nearly $1.6 million in the current fiscal year. In addition, he said the cost for repairs to the building itself are estimated to be about $7.3 million.

At the May 7 meeting, nine residents spoke up in favor of keeping the center open. John Sweeney, artistic producer for West Valley Arts, said the center was recognized for the second straight year as the Best of State Semi Professional Theater. He has directed “A Christmas Carol” for Hale Centre Theatre for 21 years, including the years Hale used the center before building its own location in Sandy. And he bristled at the concept that the Utah Cultural Celebration Center in the city could fill the gap as a theatrical performance locale if the West Valley Performing Arts Center is closed.

“That would be similar to taking my Philadelphia Eagles from their home stadium and moving them to Granger High School," he said.

Like all the others who made public comments that evening, he proposed a partnership between the city and the theater community to address the issue and develop a solution.

Morgan Fenner is a third-generation resident of West Valley City. She bought the home her grandmother lived in and she recalls her grandmother and mother taking her to see plays at the center when she was a child. She’s also performed there many times.

“We met at 10 p.m. on Monday—the day before the council meeting—and we’ve been running at full speed ever since,” she said. A Facebook group called “WV Arts Save The West Valley Performing Arts Center” had over 2,000 members within 24 hours. As of this writing, that has grown to more than 2,400 members.

“We have assigned team leads over strategic areas, meeting with city leaders, organizing community outreach,” she said. “We hope to have a booth at WestFest to talk about things and make concerted but strategic efforts. The center is a significant cultural cornerstone and a symbol of the city’s vibrancy. There’s nowhere else on this side of the valley for performers and performances like those at the theater. I see it as a statement of unity, pride and progress for West Valley City and I urge the council to partner with the performing arts community.”

There was another group of supporters who spoke at the May 14 council meeting. Councilman Tom Huynh stated, “Do you want to see a 17% property tax to fix this?”

It may not come down to that. Supporters are working hard to find answers, and Pili said leaders are listening to suggestions. He said the city doesn’t have anything to bring forward right now, but said “we appreciate those of you that have come.” 

One issue that West Valley does need to address is a looming bond for the cultural center that is coming due over the next couple of years. But Pili did say, “I’m all ears. I am open to suggestions.”

This issue is far from decided, and the West Valley Journal will stay on top of any developing news. λ