Minor league baseball’s Salt Lake Bees are leaving Utah’s capital for new suburban pastures.
The Triple-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels will leave its decadeslong home in Salt Lake City’s Ballpark neighborhood at the end of the 2024 season for a new stadium to be built in South Jordan’s Daybreak.
The team’s owner, the Larry H. Miller Co., said construction of a new, privately financed stadium would begin this year.
“The team is grateful for the long-term legacy of baseball in Salt Lake City,” the company said Tuesday in a statement, “and for the incredible fans and surrounding community that support the team.”
It noted that the team’s affiliation with the big league Angels would continue in its new digs, adding that the planned stadium would be built on unspecified, undeveloped property between the Mountain View Corridor and the TRAX light rail Red Line. It is expected to be in place for the 2025 season.
The South Jordan stadium, the company added, “will serve as a year-round entertainment anchor for the fast-growing southwest quadrant of Salt Lake County.”
The Bees’ departure from Salt Lake City raises questions, however, about the future of the Ballpark neighborhood, which has long relied on the stadium as a catalyst for development and economic activity. The Ballpark Station Area Plan, adopted last fall by the City Council, centered around the stadium and called for development of a festival street on West Temple.
The intersection of West Temple and 1300 South is steeped in baseball history.
The first Bees team played there in 1915 at what would become Derks Field, named after John C. Derks, a former Salt Lake Tribune sports editor. Eight decades later, the city erected a new ballpark at the same site to spur a move from the Portland Beavers, the Triple-A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins.
Smith’s Ballpark, with its scenic views of the Wasatch Mountains towering beyond the outfield wall, has been home to the Bees since the stadium opened in 1994.
“LHM is excited about the future of Salt Lake City,” the company said, “and will continue to partner with community leaders to enrich and reimagine the neighborhood surrounding the current stadium.”
What could replace Smith’s Ballpark?
Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall said at a Tuesday news conference that, as a fan who has attended games with her family, she is disappointed and sad to see the team leaving. But, as a mayor, she said she is excited for a new development opportunity.
“I have incredible, extreme confidence, actually,” Mendenhall told reporters, “in the outstanding, unprecedented potential that this neighborhood now has.”
The mayor said the city has big ideas for the plot of land, from a second home for USA Olympic teams to housing opportunities to a row of distilleries. But officials want to hear from the community as well.
Mendenhall also announced that the city is exploring possibilities for the future of the more than 13-acre site and is kick-starting a 60-day design competition to guide its redevelopment.
Winners of the urban planning and design contest will be announced in May. City officials will put out an official request for design proposals from developers later this year.
The competition — dubbed “Ballpark Next” by the city — carries with it $30,000 in prize money.
Above all, Mendenhall said, she wants to see year-round activity in whatever replaces the ballpark.
The mayor promised the ballpark site would not become “an empty pit or a public safety risk,” and said she was confident a groundbreaking on whatever replaces the stadium could occur in fall 2024.
While Mendenhall said she is not the expert on whether the Bees’ departure means a path to Utah’s capital hosting major league baseball at some point, she wants to say it does.
“Salt Lake City, the capital city, should be the center of sports and arts and culture and our economy for the state,” she said. “It’s good for the state to have this concentration of these major [attractions]. We want to be a partner for whatever conversations may come on that, and we hope that’s possible.”
SLC’s plan for the neighborhood persists
Ballpark Community Council Chair Amy J. Hawkins said news of the team’s departure is disappointing but not surprising. She has heard rumors that the club would skip town since summer 2021.
“I know we need other things in this city, but unless this is repurposed into another kind of sporting stadium,” she said, “it’s going to be really hard to replace the joy that this brings to the neighborhood.”
Hawkins said she watches fireworks from her backyard during the season. She can hear the national anthem while she gardens.
She worries that redeveloping the site will affect elements of the Ballpark Station Area Plan, such as the planned festival street.
“I imagine the needs of a festival street next to housing or day care or other kinds of mixed-use [development],” she said, “would be different than next to a baseball stadium.”
Mendenhall said funding decisions are up to the council, but a festival street is still in the cards for West Temple. She said she is confident that when the ballpark site is redeveloped, the area will have the density and activity it will take to support celebrations and farmers markets.
Council Chair Darin Mano, whose district includes the Ballpark neighborhood, said the area plan can and should remain largely the same, and that he will be asking planning officials to sort through any amendments that need to be made to address direct references to the ballpark or game day activities.
“However, I think the general characterization of the area around the current stadium as the ‘heart of the neighborhood’ is still accurate, and items like the festival street can and should still proceed,” he wrote in a text message. “The difference is that we’ll have something to activate the site 365 days a year, not just 71.”
Stephen Goldsmith, Salt Lake City’s former planning director, said stadiums in general do little to help cities with economic development, and having the ballpark sit dormant for most of the year is a waste of space in a fast-growing city with a need for housing.
Opening up the neighborhood to new mixed-use development, Goldsmith said, “is a tremendous boon for Salt Lake City.”
“That spot,” he said, “is a developer’s dream.”
Tough to compete with South Jordan
As for the city’s relationship with the Larry H. Miller Co., the mayor said, there are no hard feelings. The decision was all business.
Mendenhall said the company bought some 1,300 acres it wants to develop in Daybreak, and it needed an anchor for the community.
“That’s something that’s difficult for a built-out city to compare apples to apples,” she said, “and compete with.”
In a video posted Tuesday on Twitter, South Jordan Mayor Dawn Ramsey said her mushrooming city of 80,000 is excited to embrace the future for the swath of land the company owns in Daybreak.
“Ultimately, it was a business decision by the Larry H. Miller Co. to move the team to South Jordan,” Ramsey said. “Given that decision, we will work with them to ensure the project is successful.”
Salt Lake County Council member Dave Alvord, whose district includes South Jordan, greeted the team’s pending relocation with excitement.
“As the growth of the west side of the Salt Lake Valley continues, the Miller family will make a significant investment to the area,” he said Tuesday. “I welcome the news and look forward to partnering with the Bees and Daybreak to improve the lives of the residents of the area and county.”
The Larry H. Miller Co. did not say if the team would change its name, but the Bees did file a trademark application last month for “Utah Bees.”