Smith Entertainment Group, Salt Lake break down new Delta Center district plan


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SALT LAKE CITY — The future of the Delta Center is mapped out.

Ryan Smith, owner of the Utah Jazz and now Utah's National Hockey League team, revealed his plan to renovate the interior of the 33-year-old arena not long after officially acquiring the Arizona Coyotes last month.

It turns out that Smith Entertainment Group, Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County have an idea of what they want the blocks around the facility to look like in the future. There are no site plans yet or extensive renderings, but representatives of the three entities spent an hour in a packed Salt Lake City Council meeting room Tuesday afternoon painting a picture of blocks filled with businesses and housing units that would essentially connect the Delta Center with City Creek Center through walkable blocks.

The plan would keep venues like Abravanel Hall and the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, but it's unclear yet if those buildings will be renovated or rebuilt. There would also be massive renovations to the Salt Palace Convention Center, reducing its massive size to account for new buildings.

"We refer to this as a sports, entertainment, culture and convention district," said Mike Maughan, Smith Entertainment Group's project principal. "For us to have a thriving downtown core, it has to have all of those pieces, and that's why we're very committed to everybody working together on this process."

The update comes as the three sides work toward an agreement that must be finalized by Sept. 1, under a bill Utah lawmakers approved in March. That bill, SB272, also set up a downtown "revitalization zone" of up to 100 acres and authorized the Salt Lake City Council to enact a sales tax increase of up to 0.5% that can help pay for the massive downtown overhaul.

The entire project is expected to cost billions of dollars, including as much as $1.2 billion coming from the new tax. The City Council will hold a public hearing later this month and could vote on a deal as early as July as the planning process plays out.

Breaking down the negotiations

As Smith negotiated a deal to reel in an NHL team, Smith Entertainment Group started getting to work on an entertainment district.

The company requested a 99-year lease extension with the Redevelopment Agency of Salt Lake City to remain on the block that's home to the Delta Center, according to the seven-page application submitted to the city on April 4. It also asked for a similar lease with Salt Lake County for two blocks east of the arena, setting up a new entertainment district surrounding the arena.

The ultimate goal, Maughan said, is to improve the "flow and connectivity" near the arena, which is difficult because the Salt Palace cuts off streets like 100 South.

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall talks to the media about a proposed Capital City Revitalization Zone and redeveloping around the Delta Center for an incoming NHL team outside of a Salt Lake City Council meeting at the Salt Lake City and County Building in Salt Lake City on Tuesday.
Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall talks to the media about a proposed Capital City Revitalization Zone and redeveloping around the Delta Center for an incoming NHL team outside of a Salt Lake City Council meeting at the Salt Lake City and County Building in Salt Lake City on Tuesday. (Photo: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

Getting there is a work in progress. Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall said the three sides are "pretty fresh" into the negotiations, but the framework of a plan is starting to emerge.

"What we know is that we want a walkable, connected three blocks of the downtown core that are right now divided by roadways," she said after Tuesday's meeting. "Walkability (and) connectivity are priorities ... and there's a possibility of opening up some of those places that are occupied by cars."

It's unclear when any of the projects will take place.

Getting there would also require major changes to roads, which is why the Utah Department of Transportation is expected to get involved with planning at some point. The plan also includes some rezoning changes, including an end to any maximum height limitations in the project zone.

Impacted buildings

There would be several building impacts, too.

The plan calls for a major remodel of the Salt Palace Convention Center, which would likely be the most impacted building. Maughan said the convention center would be reconfigured to meet the current needs of business conventions, such as building more meeting rooms and ballrooms over large-scale spaces.

He adds that Smith Entertainment Group wants to keep Abravanel Hall and the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, a pair of buildings located within the extra two blocks.

Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson issued a lengthy statement just hours before the meeting, confirming that her office has been involved in conversations with the Utah Symphony and Smith Entertainment Group over the site's future.

"The vision for a revitalization project is in the earliest stages, and no decisions on the future of Abravanel Hall have been made," she said.

She explained during the meeting that the building could be renovated or rebuilt. The 45-year-old building was already slated for large-scale renovations in the future because of deferred maintenance.

An online petition calling on the entities to protect the venue has already gathered over 20,000 signatures. Jack Clark, who started the petition, said he's been "humbled and flabbergasted" by the support the petition has received, explaining that it's a vital space for young musicians as much as the Utah Symphony.

"We can coexist. You can have Abravanel Hall, and you can still have the hockey team with the renovated Delta Center," he told KSL-TV before the meeting.

One area that had been in question is safe from any potential changes. The remnants of Salt Lake City's historic Japantown — a section of the city that was mostly lost by the creation of the Salt Palace — haven't been a part of the discussions.

That means the Salt Lake Buddhist Temple and the Japanese Church of Christ will not be impacted by any of the plans. Former Utah state Sen. Jani Iwamoto, who attended Tuesday's meeting, said she's happy with that update.

"We look forward to the preservation of what we have ... and the restoration of what we can," she said.

Preliminary cost

So how much will all of this cost?

Smith Entertainment Group's "very preliminary estimate" is that it will spend at least $3 billion toward the project, according to Maughan. Some of that could be recouped through public funds.

The company asked Salt Lake City to approve a 0.5% sales tax increase, which is estimated to generate $1.2 billion over its 30-year life. The company can collect up to $900 million of those funds. Some of that money will go toward Delta Center renovations, but he said "much of that" will go toward building the district.


I'm still optimistic about this, but clearly there are so many details that have to be hammered out before we can have the full faith that we need to commit public funding.

–Salt Lake City Council Chairwoman Victoria Petro


The company's proposal noted that the proposal might also "require tax increment financing and the creation of a public infrastructure district." This would allow the company to collect any gains created from a project that increases the property values of the area to pay for improvements.

Local leaders do see positives in the plan. Wilson said there wasn't a "revenue stream" for the county or city to pay for major upkeep of the blocks and buildings that are included in the plan.

But not all residents are sold on the plan. A handful of people spoke out about it during a public comment section of the City Council's formal meeting Tuesday night.

"That's a lot, a lot of money," one resident calling into the meeting said. "You're also putting it in a sales tax which is something that affects everyone, including the unsheltered people (at the meeting)."

A future vote

It's up to the Salt Lake City Council to approve any agreements or tax increases. Salt Lake City Council Chairwoman Victoria Petro left the meeting feeling supportive of the vision, but she said she would like to see more definitive plans before the City Council votes on it.

"I'm still optimistic about this, but clearly there are so many details that have to be hammered out before we can have the full faith that we need to commit public funding," she said, adding that it is nice to know the project scope has been whittled down to three blocks.

Petro said the City Council has discussed adding language into its lease to guarantee that the two professional sports teams remain at the Delta Center block throughout the 99-year lease.

The City Council scheduled a public hearing on the matter, which will be held on May 21; however, its members don't have much time to dwell on the project. SB272 left a narrow window for an agreement, setting a Sept. 1 deadline. The plans would have to be approved by a new state committee.

If approved by the state, the City Council can vote on implementing a new citywide tax by the end of this year.

While the SB272 timeframe is narrow, the bill is also vague enough that an agreement could be reached by the deadline before amendments are made to the deal as exact plans are carried out.

"Staying at the table is something we can do even past this," Petro said. "Even in other interlocal agreements, we revisit them regularly and amend them to make sure they work better for all of us."

Contributing: Shelby Lofton

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Carter Williams is a reporter who covers general news, local government, outdoors, history and sports for KSL.com.

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