Salt Lake City Council approves deal with Smith Entertainment Group for downtown renovation project

Posted at 7:57 PM, Jul 09, 2024

SALT LAKE CITY — In a unanimous vote, the Salt Lake City Council approved a deal with the Smith Entertainment Group that will infuse nearly a billion dollars into a proposed downtown sports, arts and entertainment district.

The Council voted Tuesday following months of discussions between local political leaders and the Smith Entertainment Group on the deal, which would pump $900 million into transforming the area around the Delta Center through a citywide sales tax increase. The funds would also renovate the arena itself to accommodate both the Utah Jazz and the new Utah Hockey Club.

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Plans show where downtown entertainment district would sit in Salt Lake City

The funds will come from a sales tax increase of 0.5% in Salt Lake City. A vote on that tax hike itself will come later, after the Utah State Legislature grants final approval to the deal between the city and Smith Entertainment Group.

Several of the city council members spoke about how they were initially on the fence but after working together with Smith Entertainment Group they were in lock step with their decision.

“A dying downtown is the worst thing that can happen to all of our districts” Council member Alejandro Puy said as a part of his time for personal privilege just before the vote.

That sentiment was echoed by a lot of the council that this new district could be a driving force for the economy and to keep the momentum of a downtown landscape growing and not moving to the suburbs.

“When we all were sworn into office, we promised to execute the duties of our office with fidelity,” Council Chair Victoria Petro said, adding, “This is one of those moments we can look in the mirror and know we’ve done that.”

Many on the council also added their support for the revitalization of Japantown.

The vote endorses what is called a participation agreement and sends the 136 page document that includes the deal with Smith Entertainment Group to the state legislature as laid out in the terms of S.B. 272.

The revitalization zone committee for input has 30 days to look it over and then it goes back to the Salt Lake City council for a final vote which will finalize that .5% sales tax increase.

The Smith Entertainment Group has promised to invest its own $3 billion toward the project, which would be constructed from the Delta Center east toward Abravanel Hall and the Salt Palace. Although the council approved the deal, the tax increase (if approved) will not go into effect until 2025.

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Once it goes through that process, there is also funding that will go directly to the revitalization of Japan town, something council member Darin Mano spoke at length about.

Following the meeting, Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall called the vote a “catalytic day” for the city.

“We have great examples across this country of downtowns that enter a downward spiral because of disinvestment and the attractiveness of cheaper land outside of the urban core.” said Mendenhall. “When this happens in a downtown, it pulls people, it pulls jobs and then it pulls institutions and downtowns cannot recover from this kind of a downward spiral. Denver is in the midst of that right now. This is not a good scenario, not only for downtown but for the state of Utah and especially for Salt Lakers throughout the city.”

The mayor added how much sports is an economic driver for Salt Lake City, specifically saying that she thinks cities around the world will “Look to Salt Lake” for how we have structured this deal and partnerships across the board to add to the economy.

However, not everyone is on board with the plan. A small group from Americans for Property Utah gathered ahead of the meeting holding signs and protesting the vote.

“I'm as excited as anyone. Right, that the NHL will be here. I think that is exciting. I'm excited to go watch it.” Kevin Greene state director with the group. “But I think the people who own these teams who own these… these businesses should be the ones to cover the cost. They're the ones reaping all of the financial benefits.”

The deal includes penalties for the Smith Entertainment Group should the NHL team and Utah Jazz leave the city within the next 30 years. As part of the deal, Smith Entertainment Group must also put a special ticket fee on top of every arena event with the money earmarked for affordable housing needs.