SLC gets best look yet at sports district that would transform downtown

The Delta Center would be teed up for a refreshed entrance if Salt Lake City moves forward on the planned project.

The ownership group behind the Utah Jazz and the Beehive State’s recently acquired National Hockey League franchise is envisioning a grand entrance for the Delta Center, a residential tower and a new hotel as part of a proposal to overhaul downtown Salt Lake City with a sports and entertainment district.

In a Tuesday presentation to the Salt Lake City Council, Smith Entertainment Group executive Mike Maughan said a new arena entrance would open up to a new plaza, and if the proposal to build a sports district moves forward, renovations to the longtime home of the Jazz would begin next April.

“Right now, (we want to) make sure that there are downtown gathering spaces for the community to come together,” Maughan said, “and make sure that there are benefits for residents even if they never buy a ticket, whether that’s to a hockey game, a basketball game or they never buy a ticket to Abravanel Hall or never attend a convention.”

Maughan’s presentation marked the public’s best look yet at what SEG wants to do with nearly a billion dollars of revenue from a proposed half-a-percentage-point sales tax increase in Utah’s capital.

For its part, SEG — led by pro sports magnate Ryan Smith — has committed to contributing at least $3 billion of its own money to the sports, entertainment, culture and convention district, slated for the two blocks directly east of the Delta Center.

(Smith Entertainment Group) A site plan for a proposed downtown sports and entertainment district.

Natalie Gochnour, director of the University of Utah’s Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, said most of the revenue generated from the proposed sales tax increase — upward of 80% — would come from people from outside Utah’s capital and from businesses.

“Salt Lake City,” she said, “will export much of this tax.”

Still, she noted, the average Salt Lake City household is estimated to kick in up to $150 annually in additional sales tax to pay for the district.

Ultimately, Gochnour said, the arena district is a good investment for the city.

“We’re so fortunate to have a city that has kept their eyes on the ball here,” she said. “It now has the next generation of things that we can invest in, and I think it’s a really important moment in the city’s history.”

If built, the district would transform the face of the area around the arena.

(Smith Entertainment Group) A site plan for a proposed downtown sports and entertainment district.

Part of SEG’s plan calls for burying 300 West and converting the area above it into a new pedestrian mall that would connect the district and the arena. Maughan said SEG is working with the state to estimate the total cost and timeline to move the road underground.

Most of Maughan’s presentation focused on the block immediately east of the Delta Center. The block that is farther east, which is home to Abravanel Hall, would make up the project’s second phase, Maughan said. The future of the concert hall, he said, is in the hands of Salt Lake County.

Maughan did not say during his presentation how much public money his organization wants to use on refreshing the Delta Center. In an interview with KSL before his council presentation, he put that figure at roughly $500 million, with $300 million going to the culture and convention part of the project.

The council’s formal meeting Tuesday night marked the public’s second in-person opportunity to share comments about the massive sports district proposal. About 40 commenters signed up to speak.

Derek Johnson, a small-business owner in Salt Lake City, said the plan for a new entertainment district would be “amazing” for businesses and would revitalize downtown.

Jen Colby, however, said SEG’s proposed district is a “poison pill takeover” and that Utah’s capital already has enough spaces for entertainment that are underfunded and underused.

The council is expected to cast a final vote on the project July 2.

(Smith Entertainment Group) A site plan for a proposed downtown sports and entertainment district.