Bill Davis: Salt Lake City’s Ballpark Neighborhood can thrive without the ballpark

Hopes that the stadium would revitalize the neighborhood have never come true.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Salt Lake Bees open their season at Smith’s Ballpark, May 6, 2021.

A recent article in the Sept. 13 Salt Lake Tribune titled “Salt Lake Bees leaving the Ballpark Neighborhood could be a disaster for the residents” takes the negativity of this interesting and rapidly developing neighborhood to a new level.

The article is full of various quotes such as, “Hawkins said she worries that might destroy it,” or, “If they left, it might be a crushing blow to a neighborhood already struggling on several fronts.” All this from the organization that is supposed to be the neighborhood’s strongest advocate.

For two or three years now, all we have heard is what a crime ridden s-hole this area has become. You would think it’s the murder capital of the Wasatch Front. Sure, it’s got problems — like most areas of this city or any city.

The reality is that the Ballpark Neighborhood is a wonderful place to live, recreate and invest. One of the most vibrant parts of the city is the Central 9th Neighborhood, which is included in the Ballpark Council boundaries.

I’m not advocating for the Salt Lake Bees to leave and the ballpark to be torn down. I’ve enjoyed walking to the games for years now. The reality is that if both things happened, this would not destroy the neighborhood. It isn’t “a little scary to think about” nor would it be a crushing blow to the neighborhood. This is nonsense. The reality is that it could be a huge opportunity for the area.

Opportunity you say? How so?

As the article pointed out, the Bees play 75 games a season there. Sounds impressive but, from an urban planning standpoint, that means there are 290 days a year in which the stadium is a dead space. Pretty much no activity going on. If you include the huge surface parking lot to the north, this is a huge hole in the neighborhood which, in my opinion, is a bigger problem than the Bees and the stadium leaving.

I remember when the plans to renovate Derks Field were unveiled with great fanfare. To digress. Something many people forget is, at the time, one of the proposals was to relocate the stadium to Pioneer Park. That did not happen for various reasons, but one of the arguments to keep it in its historical location was that it would revitalize the neighborhood.

Well, that didn’t really happen for a couple of reasons, among many. First, the city, which owns the stadium and the large empty surface parking lot to the north, didn’t own any other property surrounding it. So it couldn’t really force any development to happen.

The city did create a short term RDA project area to do the renovation, but it only included the actual stadium and parking lot. When it was done, the project area expired so the city couldn’t even incentivize private development. So not surprisingly, the area didn’t revitalize and the stadium sits unused for 290 days a year.

If the Bees and stadium leave this would actually be a huge opportunity for the area.

The Central Business District has been creeping south for decades now and has recently accelerated due to the rapid growth of Salt Lake City. I predicted that at some point the southern boundary of the Central Business District would be 900 South, then 1300 South and eventually it would merge with the downtown that South Salt Lake is currently and successfully building. I’d say that it isn’t a stretch to say the CBD is about to 900 South now.

If this huge hole in the Ballpark Neighborhood is properly developed, this could easily be the southern anchor of the CBD and it would happen much faster than even I thought it would. All of the benefits of being part of the urban care would accrue to the area. The Ballpark Neighborhood would become even more interesting and vibrant than it already is. It’s a great neighborhood.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Bill Davis introduces himself to the Salt Lake City Council, Jan. 21, 2020.

Bill Davis was the chair of the Ballpark Community Council for approximately 10 years until 2018. He was actually responsible for it being named the Ballpark Community Council. He owns three businesses located in the BCC along with several commercial and residential properties.