It’s about more than baseball. Will Salt Lake see opportunity, Editorial Board asks

Flight of the Bees to the suburbs should not be discouraging to neighborhood or city.

(Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sunset falls on a Salt Lake Bees game, Monday, August 15, 2016.

Think of it as a sacrifice.

The baseball kind. Where the batter is out but, because he hit the ball somewhere, a teammate is able to move up a base, even score a run.

That’s what Salt Lake City and the area formerly known as the Ballpark neighborhood can take from Tuesday’s announcement that the Salt Lake Bees are decamping for a new stadium to be built in South Jordan.

The Larry H. Miller Companies, which sold the Utah Jazz a couple of years ago but kept the baseball franchise, owns 1,300 acres in the rapidly developing Daybreak development. It’s a patch of land between the TRAX Red Line and the Mountain View Parkway — a description that shows it will be easily accessible by car or transit. It will be the new home for the Triple-A franchise, in a new and presumably swankier stadium that will be the anchor tenant for a new entertainment district.

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall had already drawn up plans to make the existing ballpark the centerpiece of a revitalized neighborhood, so she is among those disappointed. But, as she noted, it’s not personal. It’s strictly business.

But, for the Ballpark neighborhood, this is no time for recriminations. The neighborhood certainly could stand some revitalizing and this is an opportunity to do just that.

Despite ongoing hopes that the presence of the baseball stadium, which offers stunning mountain views and drew respectable crowds over the years, would drive redevelopment of the surrounding neighborhood, that part of town is in trouble. It has developed a reputation for being a high-crime area, with drug use, homeless people and abandoned and decaying buildings.

The team ownership didn’t mention any of that in its announcement. It had only kind things to say about its long history in the city and best wishes for the future. Notice that the Gail Miller Resource Center, one of the new facilities to assist the homeless, is very near the ballpark and a tangible sign of the Miller family’s extensive philanthropic efforts in the community

Mendenhall has already announced a design competition — called “Ballpark Next” — with $30,000 in prize money promised to whoever can come up with the best ideas. It is an opportunity for many of us to weigh in, and that’s always good. But she and the City Council may want to consider that they need expert advice and guidance for this effort, perhaps from a national firm with a history of restoring old urban neighborhoods.

There are many possibilities for the 13-acre site at 1300 South and West Temple, which is served by TRAX and near major city streets and Interstate 15. The ballpark could be repurposed as a soccer stadium and/or an outdoor concert venue. It could be torn down to make room for a multi-use development that could include some of the mid-range housing the city really needs, along with some restaurant/bar/distillery locations.

This is an all-hands-on-deck moment for the neighborhood, the city and the larger community. The fact is that, even for those who never went to a Bees game, who may never set foot in whatever development may come next, the creation of a public gathering point benefits us all. Witness Ogden, where a revitalized downtown (including a baseball stadium) boosted the whole city and county.

And any decaying neighborhood anywhere in a metropolitan area creates an abscess that threatens to engulf and harm other neighborhoods far afield.

State and county leaders knew this when they spent time, money and political capital to turn Salt Lake City’s Rio Grande neighborhood from a nexus for people experiencing homelessness and the crime that often attends. It wasn’t just about a few blocks. It was about reinvigorating an entire community.

The Rio Grande program was far too punitive to the homeless, and the efforts made to replace the homeless services once centered there have fallen far short of the need. But the idea that such challenges require attention from local and state government, as well as the business and philanthropic communities, was well placed.

Fixing up a neighborhood is a long-term commitment. The city’s leadership is on board. The rest of us should be, too.