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Delta Center's out, EnergySolutions Arena is in

Published November 20, 2006 12:01 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2006, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Posted: 4:10 PM- The Utah Jazz is renaming its home the EnergySolutions Arena, ending its 15-year agreement with Delta Air Lines.

Jazz President Dennis Haslam said Monday the Delta Center will be renamed for the national low-level nuclear waste company with headquarters in Salt Lake City. Formed in February from the merger of three companies, including Envirocare of Utah, which operated the nation's largest commercial waste facility in Tooele County, EnergySolutions later added a fourth company and now has more than 1,000 employees at facilities in 40 states and three countries (soon to be seven).

Terms of the 10-year deal were not disclosed. It involves naming rights outside and inside the building, advertising and hospitality opportunities.

"We believe we have found a partner that shares a lot in common with what our company is about," said Haslam, noting that the Jazz- owning Larry Miller Sports & Entertainment Group had talked to 15 to 25 companies, including bankruptcy plagued Delta, about naming rights for the arena. "We both have strong Utah leadership. We have two home- grown entrepreneurs. Having a Utah headquartered company is important to us. It sends a strong message about our community, our state and about our business affiliations." Haslam was referring to both Jazz owner Larry Miller and to EnergySolutions president and chief executive Steve Creamer, a former Utah Department of Transportation official who was active in developing a large landfill outside of East Carbon in east-central Utah before helping to form EnergySolutions.

The company is owned by his firm, Creamer Investments; Lindsay Goldberg & Bessemer, a New York City-based private equity group; and Peterson Partners, a 10-year-old private equity firm based in Salt Lake City.

"EnergySolutions is innovative and they're progressive and they share a lot of the ideals we share," Haslam said.

He also said Miller Sports & Entertainment had checked out EnergySolutions and was aware of its controversial past, particularly the activities of former Envirocare of Utah executive Khosrow Semnani, who was implicated in a bribery/extortion scandal involving a former state regulator. Nor did Jazz officials have problems linking their company to a hazardous waste disposal facility.

"We have a confidence level with the business practices at EnergySolutions and the business they're in," he said. "They are cleaning up the country, and becoming a solution to nuclear energy problems is important." Larry Miller said any initial concerns he had disappeared after he learned more about EnergySolutions' business.

"Some people might vaporlock or panic. There's no need for that," he said. "The first thing I'd say to anyone who is uneasy or would make a controversy out of it is 'Find out what you're talking about' . . . It's a safe business and a necessary business based on alternatives going forward." Creamer said the decision to acquire the naming rights' sponsorship was part of an aggressive rebranding campaign designed, in part, to educate the public about the importance and safety of handling low-level radioactive and hazardous wastes.

"I'm very proud of what I do," said Creamer. "We're not going to hide. What we do isn't scary . . . and we want people to know it isn't scary.

The United States, he added, "has to have nuclear energy and it doesn't work without us. [Waste material] has to be properly taken care of and that's what we work very hard to do and we're very proud of our work." Haslam said Delta Air Lines has been a good partner the past 15 years but, in talks since March, "we weren't able to get together on all of the elements of what makes a relationship. We didn't get to the point where somebody said 'yes' or somebody said 'no.' It wasn't going the direction we had had hoped and they had hoped." He acknowledged that Delta's bankruptcy proceedings concerned the Miller group. "It was something we worried about, whether we could even go forward with Delta, considering its bankruptcy situation." Added Larry Miller: "It was not so much a function of [Delta] not being able to afford it, but they were distracted by weightier matters." A Delta Air Lines spokesman said the carrier learned before Monday that it lost the naming rights to the Delta Center after its exclusive contract expired Sept. 30. Anthony Black refused to say when the airline learned that another company had outbid Delta.

"I'm not aware of the date, but it was recent. We've known longer than today," Black said Monday. Until Sept. 30, the airline had the right of first refusal.

"Beyond that date, we were not officially the naming-rights owner of the building and ultimately we were not able to reach a mutual agreement on the naming rights," Black said.

EnergySolutions operates two of the nation's three commercial radioactive waste dumps, one of them 80 miles west of Salt Lake City.

Vanessa Pierce, executive director of the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah, said it now appears one of the state's top polluters is trying to soften its image.

"We might as well remake our motto: Waste, Elevated" she said, alluding to the state's public relations pitch, "Utah: Life, Elevated" The 19,911-seat arena was built by the Utah auto dealer as a successor to the aging Salt Palace. It took nearly 16 months to complete the $66 million project. The 743,000-square-foot arena opened Oct. 4, 1991. Since then, it has been the site of 665 NBA basketball games, including an All-Star game and the 1997 and 1998 finals, Olympic figure skating and short-track speeding competitions, and nearly 21,000 other events attracting 24 million visitors.