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SALT LAKE CITY — Donovan Mitchell is curious.
Each of his five seasons, Mitchell has attended All-Star weekend (though he wasn't able to participate this past weekend in Cleveland due to an illness). He's seen how the midseason spectacle has transformed cites, and he can't help but wonder what's in store for Salt Lake City next February.
"How's downtown gonna be like? How's Park City gonna be like?" Mitchell asked.
The answers to those questions are finally going to begin to be answered. On Sunday, Jazz owners Ryan and Ashley Smith took part in a "passing of the torch" moment with Cleveland Cavaliers ownership, officially starting the countdown for the Salt Lake City All-Star weekend.
The Smiths were joined in Cleveland over the weekend by representatives from Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County, and the Salt Lake "All-Star Alliance" (11 local businesses featuring America First Credit Union, Coca-Cola, Ford, Larry H. Miller Dealerships, Nu-Skin, Qualtrics, Toyota, University of Utah Health, Vivint, WCF Insurance and Zions Bank).
The group took part in a future host training program, and to get a feel for what an All-Star weekend looks like.
In 2019, the Jazz were announced as the host for the 2023 game. Over two years later, the planning can really begin.
"We've already started scheduling some pretty important meetings that will start shortly after returning from Cleveland," Jazz president Jim Olson said.
Those meetings will include stakeholders, government officials and the NBA. Prior to last weekend in Cleveland, Olson estimated that 65% of the work still needed to be done for next year's event. Why have things moved so slow? Well, things are a bit different now than they were in late 2019. Utah has a new governor, Salt Lake City has a new mayor, and the Jazz have a new owner. That'll slow down plans.
Aside from that, though, it's a league event, and the Jazz organization can only do so much.
There's not a lot of change when it comes to All-Star weekend. Friday will feature a Rising Stars Challenge, Saturday will have the 3-point contest, skills challenge and dunk contest, and Sunday will have the actual game. Other staples of the weekend include the annual day of service on the Thursday before the game, and the Hall of Fame finalists announcement. There's always the potential for new things to be added, too, like the newly formed HBCU Classic and G-League "Next Gem" game.
Vivint Arena will host the major events; the Huntsman Center will host the minor basketball events; and the Salt Palace Convention Center will also be utilized. That's about all the details that have been finalized.
While it's a league event, the NBA does allow the host team to add its own local flair to the showcase.
Back in 2018, Utah hinted at incorporating the Sundance Film Festival, and Smith also mentioned Park City when talking about the event over the weekend. The annual NBA Tech Summit is also expected to get bigger play due to Utah's prominent tech community.
In all, there will be dozens of league-sanctioned events throughout the weekend — and dozens more unofficial ones — tha will give the Jazz plenty of chances to put their own spin on things and showcase the area.
"Our expectations are very high," Olson said. "And that's that everybody leaves Utah, first of all, saying that it was a great All Star Weekend and second, Utah's just an absolutely incredible place — and I'm coming back and I'm coming back for other events to visit vacation, whatever it may be."
How many people will be coming to Salt Lake for that weekend?
The NBA expects 100,000 people to attend at least one All-Star Game event in Salt Lake city, and estimate 40,000 will be from out-of-state. That's the number the league gave in Cleveland this season, and in Chicago back in 2020 as well. (The 2021 event in Atlanta was mostly fan-less due to COVID-19).
So it's more of a cookie cutter number than a real guess.
A study from the 2017 All-Star Weekend in New Orleans said 18,911 out-of-towners attended at least one event. That was in party-centered New Orleans. Would 20,000 more people really come to a winter city not exactly known for a vibrant downtown scene?
Jazz owner Ryan Smith has been very vocal about his desire for Utah to become a more prominent city. While he may not have been officially a part of the bid to get the event to Salt Lake City, the Jazz see it as a chance to expand that vision.
"We think it's a great opportunity," Olson said. "Listen, people are going to come for all the All-Star events but we also want them to — the easy default is to experience the skiing in February — but there's much more: the downtown nightlife in Salt Lake and where that's grown, what that's become over time."
Downtown will look a bit different. Along with thousands of extra people and the expected branding around the city, there will be dozens of pop-up shops — including potentially a pop-up liquor store. Governor Spencer Cox included $200,000 in his proposed budget for that idea.
What's the benefit of all this?
When the Jazz hosted the 1993 All-Star Game, it was estimated the event brought in $7-$10 million to the city (about $13-$19 million in today's dollars). That should be higher this time around.
The league says the event has about a $100 million economic impact. In 2019, the city of Charlotte reported an $87.7 million economic impact. When the Salt Lake City game was announced In 2018, then-Gov. Gary Herbert estimated the impact would be about $45-$50 million.
In Charlotte, hotels around the arena doubled in price over the four-day event, and lodging in the surrounding metropolitan area went up 80%. A similar effect is expected in downtown Salt Lake, which should have about 8,000 hotel rooms when the event occurs (if 40,000 really come, lodging will be hard to find). Restaurants, ski resorts, and other businesses will see an uptick in business as well. Charlotte reported an additional $4.67 million in state and local sales tax revenue just from All-Star Weekend.
So it'll make an impact. Maybe not a $100 million impact as the league claims, but a sizable one.
It's not yet known how much the event will cost to put on — and who exactly is paying for what — but the Jazz do know this: It's not expected to be a moneymaker for the organization.
"When an NBA team bids on this, they go into it, knowing that it's a great opportunity to bring economic impact to a community and we are putting a lot of our own resources into making this successful," Olson said. "And so it is not viewed as an opportunity to create economic benefit for the organization but viewed as an opportunity to create a great community event for everyone in Utah."
And a lot of people outside of it, too.