The Larry H. & Gail Miller Family Foundation is donating $5 million to Salt Lake County to upgrade two of its softball complexes — a gift that appears in county documents to be contingent upon their renaming after the late Larry Miller, longtime Jazz owner and softball enthusiast.
Parks and landmarks like them are often christened because of geography, to honor someone’s legacy or to reflect common community usage. But in a review of recent park renamings in the county and beyond, The Salt Lake Tribune couldn’t find any other instances in which a name change was based on a donation.
While Salt Lake County Council Chairman Richard Snelgrove said the “rollout” may be unusual, he said the end result isn’t.
“It’s really no different from any other naming rights, be it for the South Towne [Mountain America] Expo Center or for the [Dolores Dore] Eccles Theater,” he said after the Council accepted the funding agreement and approved the name change with little fanfare at its work meeting on Tuesday.
The Larry H. Miller Softball Complex at Big Cottonwood Park in Millcreek already bears Miller’s name, but the Valley Regional Complex at Gary C. Swensen Regional Park in Taylorsville will need a new moniker.
Holly Yocom, director of the county’s community services department, told The Salt Lake Tribune that the renaming was a recognition of the Miller family’s support. The language on the council agenda — which says the donation is “conditioned upon renaming certain County-owned softball complexes” — was just “legalese” from the attorneys who drafted the resolution, she noted.
The Millers “said they’d give us [money] for the softball complexes, and one is already named after them, so it’s not naming both of them,” she said. “So what we said is we’d like to name something [else] after the Miller family, as well.”
Jay Francis, executive director of the Miller foundation, echoed that sentiment.
“The Miller family never went to the county and said, ‘Here’s our donation and you need to name it after us,’” he said. "The county offered that, which was a great offer, but it was never contingent [on the renaming]. They would have donated the money irregardless.”
Still, the agreement between the Miller foundation and the county, executed on Feb. 26, explicitly states that the organization “desires to partner with the County by contributing $5M over the next three years toward updating and upgrading the Complexes in exchange for the Complexes to both bear the Larry H. Miller name during their lifetimes.”
Miller was a softball fanatic, a skilled fast-pitch pitcher who devoted an entire chapter of his autobiography to the sport. He was a member of the International Softball Congress Hall of Fame and the Utah Softball Hall of Fame.
That’s part of why the Miller foundation decided to make the donation, Francis said.
“Softball was a major part of Larry’s life and his recreation,” he said. "He played softball — I wouldn’t call it professionally — but he played softball a lot and traveled a lot because of it. He loved it and I think the other reason [for the donation] would be that it’s nice to have facilities where people can get out and do things and be able to recreate with nice facilities.”
Both the county facilities set to be improved were built in the early 1970s and now feature dilapidating fields and stadium seating. The Salt Lake County Division of Parks and Recreation plans to update and upgrade the complexes with new bleachers and a shelter and press area by the spring of 2022.
The newly named Larry H. Miller Softball Complex at Gary C. Swenson Valley Regional Park, renamed four years ago, will continue to bear the name of a former superintendent who helped the county purchase the property that ultimately became a 90-acre park surrounding four softball diamonds.
The Miller family — which owns more than 60 car dealerships and the National Basketball Association’s Utah Jazz — has agreed through its foundation to pay $1 million upon execution of the agreement, $2 million once the county finishes its work on the Big Cottonwood Canyon Complex in 2020 and the final $2 million after the upgrade of the Valley Regional Complex in 2021, according to county documents.
“We’re very grateful to the Miller family,” Snelgrove said Tuesday. “It certainly would have been doable without the contribution, but other things maybe had to give — maybe some deferred maintenance, other things. So in terms of the rollout, it’s very much appreciated and very timely.”
The most recent park moniker change in the state happened in east-central Utah, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony held Tuesday for the new Fred Hayes State Park at Starvation, formerly known as Starvation State Park and named in honor of a former director of the Division of Parks and Recreation.