Could Major League Baseball be the secret sauce that turns around SLC’s North Temple?

The prospect of a big stadium, combined with housing and shops, has Utah leaders, city officials and west-siders jazzed about the area’s future.

(Big League Utah) Early concepts of a Major League Baseball park planned for Salt Lake City's Power District.

Salt Lake City hopes to jump into the big leagues — and boost its west side in the process.

A groundbreaking Wednesday for a new Rocky Mountain Power headquarters along North Temple notched up dramatically in excitement when officials confirmed the 100-acre site may also someday host a Major League Baseball team.

The industrial property across from the Utah State Fairpark is now the preferred location for a future stadium as a powerful coalition of sports, business and government officials — led by the Miller family and The Larry H. Miller Co. — announced a concerted campaign to recruit an MLB team to Utah’s capital.

The effort, dubbed Big League Utah, comes as MLB eyes an expansion from 30 to 32 teams, and Salt Lake City has registered its interest with the league in becoming a destination. Gail Miller, owner of Larry H. Miller Co., told hundreds of residents and Rocky Mountain Power employees gathered for Wednesday’s groundbreaking that “it only makes sense that Utah is on deck to become that expansion team.”

“I hope every Utahn, from St. George to Wendover to Vernal, feels that Big League Utah is their campaign,” Miller said. “It’s their call to action.”

“I can’t stop smiling,” Gov. Spencer Cox added about the prospect of elevating America’s favorite pastime in Utah. “It’s such a special day.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Gov. Spencer Cox and Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall joke with Gary Hoogeveen, Rocky Mountain Power president and CEO, during a news conference on the Power District development on the west side of Salt Lake City including a possible Major League Baseball park, on Wednesday, April 12, 2023.

Called the Power District, the acreage along North Temple — roughly the size of Liberty Park — was already being shaped for development of a kind of small city as the utility contemplates decommissioning its nearly 70-year-old gas-fired Gadsby Power Plant, set for 2030.

Initial plans call for a new sustainable headquarters to replace existing Rocky Mountain Power offices as well as a revamped operations center and a new parking garage, located close to an adjacent stretch of the Jordan River. The regional utility has also proposed lots of walkable housing, retail and entertainment venues along with other commercial projects in subsequent phases, all served by a TRAX line.

(Rocky Mountain Power, via Salt Lake City) An initial aerial rendering of Rocky Mountain Power's proposed new office and operations center to be built at about 1275 W. North Temple, along the Jordan River.

Now, according to LHM CEO Steve Starks, who is said to have been instrumental in creating the city’s MLB campaign, “we have a preferred shovel-ready site right here today” for a future stadium tucked into the Power District.

Starks said those backing the bid “have strong reasons to believe we will be a viable candidate,” citing Utah in baseball parlance as “a five-tool player” — in this case, for its rapid growth, vibrant economy, central location, enthusiastic sports culture and high quality of life.

“It’s an exciting day,” said Utah Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, who attended with House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, and other lawmakers. “It’s about time we have Major League Baseball in Utah.”

Adding a stadium and support facilities in the shadow of three iconic smokestacks rising above Gadsby would also substantially boost the Rocky Mountain Power project’s potential for bringing new community amenities and a dramatic economic jolt to surrounding neighborhoods.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) The sun sets over Rocky Mountain Power's Gadsby Plant in Salt Lake City in 2021. The smokestacks are likely to stay even if a baseball stadium is built.

And, yes, the smokestacks are likely to be retained, officials said, as part of this site’s history and role in serving customers from that location since the 1940s. Rocky Mountain Power executives said a range of community members had expressed a desire to keep and repurpose the disused steam towers as part of holding onto the area’s “industrial heritage.”

Dale Murphy, retired Atlanta Braves star and one of several MLB players who spoke Wednesday, said the stacks even look like baseball bats.

A ‘game-changer’ for the west side

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Gov. Spencer Cox, Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall, Salt Lake City Council members, Jordan River Commission leadership, community council leaders, Rocky Mountain Power executives, and baseball players from the west side, pose for a photo during a news conference on the Power District development on the west side of Salt Lake City, including a possible Major League Baseball park, on Wednesday, April 12, 2023.

Salt Lake City Council member Alejandro Puy, whose district includes the Rocky Mountain Power site, said the ballpark project could be transformative for the west side.

“If it’s done correctly like we talked, and I think it will,” Puy added, “it’s a game-changer for the area, for this corridor, for the grand boulevard here, for the community.”

Fellow west-side council member Victoria Petro said her side of town deserves to benefit, having done its part to fix things that are wrong in the city.

“This is a good thing that allows us to grow and keep that identity that’s so unique,” she said, “and that passion and the vibrancy that is just us.”

News of a possible stadium also emerges as the North Temple corridor sees an unprecedented burst of residential development, much of it fueled by special tax breaks to those investing in the neighborhood and other lower-income parts of the city through the creation in 2017 of federal “opportunity zones.”

Last May, state officials released a new master plan for the nearby Fairpark, calling for nearly 15 years of new mixed-use development at that 65-acre locale, along with substantial upgrades to exhibition halls and an infusion of housing.

Rocky Mountain Power has been planning the site’s future for years before the prospect of seeking to recruit an MLB team. Melissa Jensen with Salt Lake City-based GIV Communities, one of its partners in developing the project along with Minneapolis-headquartered Mortenson Construction and FFKR Architects in Salt Lake City, said the district is meant to be “hyper-focused on a pedestrian experience, where it feels like you’re part of that great Utah outdoor vibe, but you’re in an urban setting.”

In several hearings at City Hall on rezoning a portion of the land to make way for its new headquarters, Rocky Mountain Power and its representatives made zero mention of a possible stadium.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall speaks at a news conference on the Power District development on the west side of Salt Lake City, including a possible Major League Baseball park, on Wednesday, April 12, 2023.

Mayor Erin Mendenhall said she wasn’t brought into the conversation about attracting a big league team until late January or early February.

“Right now, it’s about enthusiasm for the ambition,” the mayor said in an interview Wednesday. “We have had no conversations either with Miller or Rocky Mountain Power, the property owner, about zoning, master planning, financial opportunities — none of that has come up yet.”

Mendenhall agreed a ballpark along North Temple could be the “catalytic positive change” the city has chased for years.

“The sheer scale of the Power District is enough to potentially tip the economic momentum of this district,” she said. “And when you couple the opportunity of a Major League Baseball ballpark here, that could be exponentially greater to make that change happen and make it last.”

Emails show talk of an MLB bid

(Big League Utah) Early concepts of a Major League Baseball park planned for Salt Lake City's Power District.

Emails obtained through a public records request show talk of Salt Lake City potentially being awarded an MLB expansion franchise came up last fall as officials with the city and Larry H. Miller Co. discussed extending a lease that would keep the Miller-owned Salt Lake Bees in the city’s Smith’s Ballpark.

“On another matter, everyone here at the city is very excited with all the recent discussions and publicity surrounding the prospects of a Major League Baseball (MLB) expansion franchise being awarded to Salt Lake City,” Mendenhall’s chief administrative officer, Lisa Shaffer, wrote in an Oct. 14 email to Starks. “While we are optimistic, we do recognize that the MLB expansion franchise process can take several years and therefore we believe it is very important that the Bees and the city continue our discussions towards securing a new ballpark lease.”

Shaffer told Starks that city officials believed there were options for a new lease that could be factored into an agreement between the team and the city if a major league club were awarded to Salt Lake City.

“In short,” Shaffer wrote, “our current lease negotiations and future options for a major league team can and should be held in tandem.”

In the end, LHM opted to move the Triple-A Bees to a stadium to be built in South Jordan’s Daybreak for the 2025 season — a plan that officials aim to follow even if Salt Lake City lands a major league team.

Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, who represents portions of the city’s west side, has been working with the Big League Utah coalition on the initial vision of the North Temple development.

“Any opportunity to bring a major league team of any type is a huge opportunity for development for our state,” Escamilla said. “But to have it on the west side, in front of a great jewel like the Fairpark, means that there’s an opportunity for a bigger integration of communities.”

Though the possibility of offering public funds to this project is uncertain, Escamilla said she is open to a private-public partnership if that means that west-side communities are able to access these facilities.

“I’m open for ideas and truly an opportunity to bring more facilities and infrastructure to our community on the west side. Why not have the state be part of that solution?”

‘I’m through the roof’

(Big League Utah) Early concepts of a Major League Baseball park planned for Salt Lake City's Power District.

West-side community councils and organizations were also excited to hear about the potential stadium. The possibility of transforming a chunk of industrial land into a major amenity, they said, makes the Rocky Mountain Power development an even more exciting addition.

“That’s a big parcel of land in our community that could stand to be more activated and have more amenities for people who live here,” said Daniel Strong, president of the Westside Coalition. “And obviously having a major league ballpark there would really take that project up to the next level.”

If done right, with a plan to avoid displacement, Strong said, the ballpark could present big opportunities.

“I’m through the roof,” said Nigel Swaby, chair of the Fairpark Community Council. “There’s no nightlife over here [now].”

This also widens the need to bury the railroad tracks that are prevalent in the neighborhood, he said, since fans won’t want to wait for trains to pass on their way to a game.

Turner Bitton, chair of the Glendale Neighborhood Council, welcomed the news as well.

“If a stadium of this size comes into that area, we really need to make sure that that those transit resources are in place,” he said, “so that it’s not just car traffic, but we can welcome people on the train and TRAX and really connect people both in the local neighborhood and the rest of the state and city to this resource.”

Soren Simonsen, executive director of the Jordan River Commission, has been working with Rocky Mountain Power developers to figure out how the river could play a significant role in the 100-acre project. The addition of a stadium may be a way of turning North Temple’s portion of the river into a community-focused place, he said, just like it was for thousands of years of human history.

“This was the center of life and community,” he said. “And what’s being discussed right now is an opportunity to take an area that’s been kind of industrialized and forgotten in many ways for generations — to revitalize and rethink this area as the center of community and culture again.”