Patrick Kinahan: NHL arrival only part of Smith's intention to trigger downtown SLC makeover

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SALT LAKE CITY — Take a good look around downtown, maybe even snap a picture or two for keepsake, a dramatic makeover is forthcoming.

Triggered by last week's announcement of an NHL franchise moving from Arizona to the capital city, the addition is one of several that will transform the area around the Delta Center. For a cool $1.2 billion, Ryan Smith and his wife, Ashley, tapped into the dream of changing Utah.

In less than six months, the puck will drop for real at the Delta Center. In somewhat of a surprise, rather than build another area, Ryan Smith announced plans to renovate the longtime home of the Utah Jazz to make it more suitable for hockey. Imagine the possibilities for downtown, as Smith does.

Clearly, he's not stopping at only improving sight lines for hockey fans.

"It's not about the arena renovations, it's just not," Smith said during last week's press conference to announce the team moving. "It's about everything else and something we can all be proud of. It's going to take everyone — it's going to the county, it's going to take the city, from a tax standpoint, but we'll generate a lot of revenue. I think down the road everyone will look back and go, 'Wow.'"

You know the phrase — think big or go home. Try pumping big up another thousand steps on the ladder — this man's mind goes far beyond the ordinary genius.

And get this, he's still a young pup at only 45 years old. We ain't seen nothing yet — wait until he's 50.

The renovation started October 2020 when the billionaire couple bought a majority stake in the Jazz from Gail Miller, the wife of the late Larry H. Miller. Two years later, they teamed with David Blitzer to buy Real Salt Lake of Major League Soccer.

Smith wasn't stopping there. He also set his sights on bringing NHL hockey to the capital city, either through league expansion or getting a beleaguered owner to sell an existing team.

Ponder all that he has done in less than five years. For better or worse, he's not fond of sitting still.

Oh, in his spare time, Smith dabbles in his alma mater's sports. He had a hand in luring the recently hired Kevin Young away from his position as associate head coach of the Phoenix Suns to succeed Mark Pope as the BYU basketball coach.

Long known for not paying the going rate, BYU reportedly gave Young a seven-year, $30 million contract. This comes on the heels of giving football coach Kalani Sitake a contract that athletic director Tom Holmoe labeled "unprecedented."

Not counting BYU, there's a joke in there somewhere, Smith has control — or at least a major voice — in operating Qualtrics, the Jazz and RSL. He launched Qualtrics, for which he remains executive chairman, with his father and brother in 2002 and later sold it for $8 billion.

As the first team to play exclusively at the highest level of professional sports in the state, the Jazz will always hold a special place in our hearts. First loves always remain entrenched in a sacred space.

So far, so bad, regarding Smith's ownership of the Jazz — at least in terms of the team's record. Under his leadership, along with his most trusted basketball advisor, Danny Ainge, the team hasn't made the postseason the last two years.

Smith authorized virtually a complete teardown two years ago, essentially stripping the team of any seasoned talent in favor of stockpiling draft picks stretching into the rest of the decade. Predictably, the Jazz played out the string the last two seasons stockpiling nothing but losses.

While it is grossly unfair to draw final conclusions on Smith's ownership capabilities, the clock is ticking loudly. Going forward, our attention will turn toward the new toy in town.

The team leaves Arizona having endured four consecutive losing seasons but has increased its win total each year, improving from 24 wins in a 56-game shortened season in 2020-21 to 36 in the season that concluded last week.

Much like the Jazz, the team has loaded up on draft picks that offer promise for more competitive hockey. Over the last two years, the team has added five players through the draft with more to come.

Whatever the future holds for hockey in Utah, it promises to be groundbreaking. Much the way Smith lives his life.

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Patrick is a radio host for 97.5/1280 The Zone and the Zone Sports Network. He, along with David James, are on the air Monday-Friday from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m.


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