A re-imagined Salt Palace, Abravanel Hall, and Japantown in conversations for downtown sports district

What you need to know about the $1 billion plan that could change the heart of Salt Lake City.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) The NBA Crossover media preview party Feb. 16, 2023 inside the Salt Palace Convention Center. NBA Crossover is a multi-day interactive fan event that showcases basketball culture with player appearances, live performances and unique multimedia presentations focused on art, music, fashion, technology and entertainment as part of the NBA All-Star Weekend.

Salt Lake City’s taxpayers will likely fork over $1 billion on a new sports and entertainment district downtown, one that seeks to connect core districts on Main Street and West Temple to a newly renovated Delta Center on 300 West.

What do we know about that district? Salt Lake Tribune reporters are on the case, with this Sunday’s A1 feature story on the plans — how they were developed, what we know so far about them, and significant dates to come for the project’s approval — being the most comprehensive look at the subject to date.

But for those time-challenged readers, here are the quick takeaways from the story.

Legislature forced Ryan Smith back to SLC

Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith admittedly figured he would build a new arena, and a new sports and entertainment district for the Jazz and his NHL team “on a blank piece of land down south.”

But Smith wanted public financing — so the Legislature got involved. Government reporter Robert Gehrke spoke to Utah Senate President Stuart Adams, bill sponsor Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, and other legislative sources for the backstory.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sen. Daniel McCay, R-Riverton, joins hockey fans to celebrate the Utah NHL team at the Delta Center on Wednesday, April 24, 2024.

In backroom negotiations, the Utah Legislature’s leaders forced Smith to stay in downtown Salt Lake City, where they authorized a city sales tax increase of up to 0.5 percentage points that could go toward the project. The deal also requires the project to be approved by a board made up of four members of the Legislature and one governor’s appointee.

The Legislature was fearful that Smith building a hockey arena south of Salt Lake City would eventually lead to the Jazz’s departure and a downtown in decline as some other American cities have experienced since the pandemic. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the University of Utah were also considered stakeholders in the process.

Reimagining blocks between West Temple and 300 West

Details on the project have yet to be fully decided, though Smith has officially submitted the paperwork indicating his interest in leading it. But thanks to reporting from The Tribune’s city reporter Blake Apgar, sports reporter Kevin Reynolds and Gehrke, we were able to learn more about the proposed plans.

A complete reimagining of the Salt Palace Convention Center appears to be in the project. That would allow improved flow from West Temple to 300 West, where the Delta Center sits. Convention space could be decreased or reconfigured, allowing for room to a “front entrance” patio leading into the Jazz’s and new NHL team’s home. Some versions of the plan also see a remodeled or reconstructed Abravanel Hall. The city’s Japantown district also will be impacted.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Students from the Canyons School District and six charter schools from the Wasatch Front, some 2,475 5th graders, file into Abravanel Hall to hear the Utah Symphony for their annual school concert, Feb. 11, 2020. The Utah Symphony presents Symphony of the Hawaiian Birds.

Salt Lake County owns most of that land.

On those blocks, the project plans housing, bars, restaurants, hotels, office space, and more. The omnibus liquor bill passed in 2024 specified an area between South Temple and 100 South, and West Temple and 400 West where current liquor proximity laws would no longer apply.

Inside the Delta Center, Smith Entertainment Group plans to make only minor changes this summer for the arrival of the NHL team like adding a locker room, with much more significant changes to further support hockey and improving the fan experience proposed for future offseasons.

Will the tax increase pass?

That is, if the sales tax increase to fund the project passes the Salt Lake City Council’s vote. Smith Entertainment Group will present details of the plan to the City Council on May 7, then a hearing for public comment will occur on May 21. Council members are currently scheduled to vote on the subject on July 2.

Tribune reporter Apgar spoke to four of the seven Salt Lake City Council members last week. All generally spoke in favor of the proposed district, though all had concerns or issues they’d like to see addressed in the final plans.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall enters the Delta Center before an event to introduce the Utah NHL team on Wednesday, April 24, 2024.

Councilwoman Eva Lopez Chavez, whose district includes the Delta Center, was perhaps the most vocal proponent of the increase, calling the sports district a “once-in-a-lifetime, generational investment” that will be a catalyst for downtown.

Smith and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman referenced that there are backup plans should the vote not pass, likely sending Smith’s teams south. They, too, currently expect the tax increase to be approved.