With NHL arena as a goal, Ryan Smith and SLC charge forward on new sports district

Utah’s capital and the Beehive State’s pro sports tycoon could have a done deal by early July in a move that could transform downtown.

(Ryan Smith via X) Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith posted this rendering of the proposed downtown sports and entertainment district on X in February. The city and Smith are moving forward with plans for the district, including an NHL arena.

Utah’s backward-hat-wearing billionaire has dropped the puck on a partnership with Salt Lake City that — if everything goes right — will score a new sports and entertainment district in the heart of the state’s capital.

Ryan Smith, owner of the Utah Jazz and Real Salt Lake, has applied to work with the city on a proposal to transform a swath of downtown into a hub for professional sports aimed at spurring year-round activity, City Attorney Katherine Lewis told council members Tuesday.

Smith Entertainment Group submitted the application April 4, Lewis said, and city officials are reviewing it.

“Anyone who realizes the gravity of the situation understands that this is a massive generational opportunity to do some good,” council Chair Victoria Petro said. “It also is a massive responsibility to make sure that it goes right so that we don’t leave mistakes that a future generation feels compelled to undo.”

A representative from Smith Entertainment Group confirmed the submission of the application but provided no additional comment.

News of the application to officially work with the city on a downtown revitalization zone around Delta Center follows reports that Smith intends to buy the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes, but it was always expected.

Earlier this year, Smith lobbied lawmakers to pass SB272, the bill that created the path for the partnership. It’s a measure that Mayor Erin Mendenhall heralded as “truly transformative” for the city.

Under the legislation, the city gets to issue up to a billion dollars in bonds that would be repaid by increasing the city’s sales tax rate by 0.5 percentage points, bringing it to 8.25%.

The application must show the footprint of an existing or proposed stadium and list any professional sports teams owned by the applicant. Smith has indicated that he wants to build an NHL-specific arena.

“I would view the application as the kickoff from the applicant to Salt Lake City,” Lewis said, “to then begin the negotiation process for the contract of how and what the 0.5 sales tax will be spent on.”

Council member Darin Mano said he’s excited for what the project means for the city. He also sees it as an opportunity to right historical wrongs.

“Sometimes we have the responsibility of undoing mistakes made by previous leaders,” he said. “And, in this case, we have the opportunity to undo the racism-fueled, ‘urban renewal’ project that led to eminent domain and seizure of Salt Lake City’s historic Japantown to make way for the Salt Palace in the 1960s.”

Mano said he doesn’t take the decision to raise taxes lightly and that he’s unsure of where he will land on that topic, but he is certain that “the inclusion of genuine reparations for Japantown” in this project would make a new sports and entertainment district “the most meaningful, culturally rich and historically significant sports entertainment district in the entire country.”

The city will have the opportunity to negotiate the boundaries of the project area and will need to negotiate a participation agreement with Smith Entertainment Group by September.

City officials are moving on a faster timeline, though.

Council members are scheduled to hear another briefing May 7 from city and Smith Entertainment Group officials on terms of a draft agreement.

A public hearing on an accord is slated for May 21, with a final vote possibly coming July 2.