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SALT LAKE CITY — The Salt Lake Bees are gearing up to move to a new hive in a few years, and Salt Lake City leaders are already getting to work on what to do with the team's current ballpark.
The Larry H. Miller Company, which owns the Triple-A minor league club, announced Tuesday that it plans to build a new stadium in South Jordan's Daybreak community, which is set to be ready for the 2025 season. Company officials said the stadium is being built with private funds, with construction beginning later this year.
The future of the ballpark they're leaving is less certain. About two hours after their decision was announced, Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall and other city leaders gathered at Smith's Ballpark to announce a design competition aimed at finding the best use for the 13.5 acres of land that's suddenly now available in the fall of 2024, which she believes can be "transformably good" in the long run.
"As a fan who has loved coming to baseball games with my family and coming here as a kid, as generations of Utahns have on this piece of land, I am disappointed and sad," Mendenhall said, as she stood in the ballpark's main concourse. "But as a mayor, I am excited ... (for) the outstanding, unprecedented potential that this neighborhood now has."
Bees to get new home
Larry H. Miller Company's announcement comes almost two years after it acquired about 1,300 acres of undeveloped Daybreak land.
While the exact location of the stadium has not yet been released, company officials added that it will be located between Mountainview Corridor and Utah Transit Authority's red TRAX line in the area. The company's website also states that more "opportunities for community engagement" will be announced over the next few weeks.
"The privately-financed stadium will serve as a year-round entertainment anchor for the fast-growing southwest quadrant of Salt Lake County," company officials said in a statement, adding that more details, including the locations and renderings of the facility, will be released later this year.
South Jordan Mayor Dawn Ramsey said she is thrilled with the development, calling the Miller company a "collaborative partner" with South Jordan since acquiring the land in Daybreak, in a video statement published Tuesday afternoon.
Ramsey also said that a third TRAX station is planned in the South Jordan area, though it's unclear if that will coincide with the new ballpark plans. Additional development details are expected to be released over the next few months.
"We will work with them to ensure the project is successful," she said, in the video. "We applaud the Larry H. Miller Company for making a private investment that we believe will be a strong anchor for this fast-growing region."
The Salt Lake Bees have played at Smith's Ballpark, which is owned by Salt Lake City, since the team was reestablished in 1994 as the Salt Lake Buzz. The 14,500-seat stadium was constructed for the team's return, on the grounds of the old Derks Field. The location is where Salt Lake City's previous professional baseball teams like the Giants, Angels, Gulls and Trappers all played.
The city poured $45 million in "direct contributions" since 1993, receiving only a little more than $4 million in revenue in that, Mendenhall said. Still, the Salt Lake City officials had offered the Bees a legacy lease in June 2022 that would have kept the team at Smith's Ballpark beyond 2024.
The move won't affect the Bees' affiliation with the Los Angeles Angels, which will remain in place through at least 2030. It could have implications for the University of Utah baseball team, though, which plays at Smith's Ballpark through an agreement with the Bees.
The Utes will continue to play at the ballpark through their 2024 season, but it's unclear from there, Mendenhall said. University officials issued a statement Tuesday afternoon, saying that they will "continue to evaluate and explore all options" when it comes to a home after the 2024 season.
The mayor added she has no hard feelings toward the Larry H. Miller Company about its decision to move. City leaders learned of the company's decision through a letter Friday night.
"It's a business decision," she said, noting the company's land acquisition in Daybreak. "They're looking to build a huge community, and they're looking for an anchor. That's something that's difficult for a built-out city — comparing apples to apples — to compete with."
Even though the team is moving, Miller company officials said they will "continue to partner with community leaders to enrich and reimagine the neighborhood surrounding the current stadium" in Salt Lake City. Mendenhall also said Tuesday that she believes the relationship between the two sides remains "strong," adding that she's "hoping to make some other announcement" in the coming weeks that involves the company — though she did not say what that announcement will be.
Salt Lake City Council Chairman Darin Mano, whose district includes the ballpark, told KSL.com that city leaders had waited on the Miller company's decision for "multiple years." Mendenhall added that the city spent the past 20 months trying to convince the company to keep the team in Salt Lake City.
During that time, the Ballpark neighborhood grew as the center of Salt Lake City's crime issues, even leading to the creation of a new police substation at the ballpark itself. It's unclear if the crime issues factored into the relocation decision, though.
City leaders previously announced plans to revitalize the neighborhood around Smith's Ballpark in 2021; however, they said it was difficult to move forward with the plans because they didn't know if the Bees would be around for all the changes. The city also started planning for alternatives months ago when it became clear the team could move.
While city officials are disappointed that the Bees are leaving, they're happy that the city can finally get to work revitalizing the neighborhood.
This should be a neighborhood that has not just one thing, not just one anchor but multiple anchors. That way it can really (have) a 24-hour, 365-day activation with a variety of things happening.
–Salt Lake City Council Chairman Darin Mano
"This truly is an incredible opportunity and Salt Lake City is ready to play ball right now," Mendenhall said. "Now that we have more than 13 acres of prime real estate, (there) is an unparalleled development opportunity to invest in for the people of Salt Lake City and this neighborhood. ... This site will not become an empty pit or a public safety risk."
The future of Smith's Ballpark is very much up in the air. City leaders unveiled "Ballpark Next," a "community-driven creative effort" to "reimagine" the Ballpark neighborhood without the Bees. This includes a design competition for people to design new uses for the ballpark with $30,000 in prize money on the line for the winners.
The mayor explained that the city won't rule out using the land to lure in another professional sports team in the future. They may also look at plans to convert the land into uses beyond sports. New housing opportunities, a row of distilleries, a library or even a second headquarters and central Olympic training facility for Team USA, are some of the possible ideas she said the land could be used for.
The contest, she added, will also help city leaders figure out the right use for the land, noting that her main goal is to have a centerpiece that's open year-round, instead of being open only when the Utes or Bees play at times during the spring and summer.
No matter what the city decides, ground could break on any project by the end of 2024.
"I hope we get a huge range of submissions," Mano said. "This should be a neighborhood that has not just one thing, not just one anchor but multiple anchors. That way it can really (have) a 24-hour, 365-day activation with a variety of things happening."