Field of Dreams? Robert Gehrke explains how Smith’s Ballpark could elevate women’s sports.

With the Salt Lake Bees moving to West Jordan, there’s a chance to reimagine how the great stadium could be best used in our community.

(Angela Dean | AMD Architecture) This artist rendering shows what it might look like to sit on what is now the outfield berm at Smith's Ballpark if the stadium is turned into a women's multi-sport venue.

There aren’t many teams around that have been more successful than one you’ve maybe never heard of.

In the past eight seasons, the Utah Falconz, the state’s female tackle football squad, have racked up a record of 71-9, won three national championships and finished second during two of the last three seasons.

Yet the Falconz are a team without a home, according to Lacy Mile, a player on and president for the team. They have to scrape for practice fields, dodging holes and sticks and telltale signs of inconsiderate dog walkers.

At game time, they have to come up with a few thousand bucks to rent a field and keep the lights on.

In the world of women’s sports teams in Utah, they aren’t alone. The Lady Vipers rugby squad, the Utah Wild ultimate frisbee team, new Utah Avalanche, an expansion team in the Women’s Premier Soccer League, all find themselves with similar struggles finding a place to practice and play.

That could change, thanks to a proposal to re-imagine the Smiths Ballpark after the Salt Lake Bees become the South Jordan (or whatever) Bees and turn it into something that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the country — a publicly-supported hub for women’s sports.

The idea got its start when my friend and former colleague, Matt LaPlante, wrote an op-ed in The Salt Lake Tribune suggesting the erstwhile ballpark be converted into a home for the Utah Royals, the city’s professional women’s soccer team.

It resonated with Aabir Malik, the vice president of development for the Colmena Group, which owns land to the west of the ballpark.

“Male sports have been subsidized in our country for years and years and years and in female sports, there’s never been a purpose-built female stadium in the history of our country,” Malik said. “It was … really eye-opening to me.”

There was a snag, however. Even if they could lure the Royals to the site (which appears to be a long shot) they only play a few games a year. That doesn’t begin to replace the 70-plus days a year when the Bees play and limits the benefit to the neighborhood.

But what if, instead of just becoming home to a soccer team, it became a multi-purpose women’s sports hub for football, soccer, ultimate frisbee and rugby?

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Robert Gehrke.

Without much effort, a rugby pitch could fit neatly from the stretch behind what is now home plate down to the left field wall. A football field, soccer pitch and ultimate field would take up even less space. All of those could fit inside the ballpark, and there would still be room to squeeze in a softball field in what is now the right-field corner.

Almost as soon as the Bees move out, these women’s teams could finally have a home. It would be a place where they could host clinics for school kids, hold fundraisers and exhibition matches.

On days there aren’t games or matches scheduled, the space could be used for cultural festivals and as a concert venue. Are they going to sell it out? Probably not. Neither did the Bees, who averaged a little over 4,500 per game.

But we really have no idea what the full potential is for these women’s teams, because they’ve never had anywhere near the support that men’s sports have received.

(Angela Dean | AMD Architecture) This artist rendering shows a proposal from a group of Salt Lake City residents to re-shape Smith's Ballpark a multi-purpose hub for women's football, soccer, rugby, softball and ultimate frisbee.

Mile said the Falconz have drawn 2,500 to their playoff games. But assume the Falconz and these other squads only get a third of the fans the Bees did, it still works out to be a win if they are making use of the park most nights of the year, compared to the 70-ish games the Bees now play.

For the backers of the “She Plays Here” proposal, bringing people to the area repeatedly offers the potential to re-imagine the entire neighborhood, according to Tessa Arneson.

Arneson is the founder of The Maven District, a growing section along 900 South that is committed to creating space and opportunities for women- and minority-owned businesses to thrive.

“[That’s] what we want to do and push that even further at the ballpark,” she said.

Imagine a women’s sports complex hosting games and matches four or five nights a week, ringed with bars and restaurants and storefronts that are owned by women — and the players and the store owners are given the support they need to succeed.

“We want to build an ecosystem of businesses, but also the support pieces,” Arneson said, “to allow them to be successful and grow.”

Malik’s company is on board, envisioning turning the block to the west and north into a mixed-use area with pedestrian paths, green space and a creek running through it.

(Angela Dean | AMD Architecture) This artist rendering shows a proposed re-imagining of the Smith's Ballpark as a multi-purpose hub for women's sports — football, soccer, rugby and ultimate frisbee — surrounded by women- and minority-owned businesses.

Maybe, for whatever reason, it fails. There isn’t a good model for success because at no time in history has anyone, anywhere in the U.S. ever bothered to try.

It’s time we change that.

Because we have the rare opportunity to not only breathe new life into one of the most beautiful ballparks in the country but the neighborhood surrounding it — all while making an unprecedented commitment to not just women’s sports, but women-owned businesses and show the next generation of girls that they’re part of a community that believes in their dreams.

Correction: March 23, 2023, 2:35 p.m.This story has been updated to correct the location of the land The Colamena Group owns.