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Salt Lake City, Smith Entertainment Group finalizing downtown development deal

Posted at 1:20 PM, Jun 28, 2024

SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall and the Smith Entertainment Group are close to a deal on a major downtown development involving a remodeled Delta Center and entertainment district.

It will delay a pending vote by the Salt Lake City Council on a proposed sales tax hike to pay for some of it.

On Friday, Mayor Mendenhall and Smith Entertainment Group issued a joint statement saying that they are negotiating and finalizing the agreement. Because those negotiations continue, it will delay a planned July 2 vote by the Salt Lake City Council on the proposed sales tax increase.

"Salt Lake City and Smith Entertainment Group (SEG) continue to negotiate and finalize the terms of a Participation Agreement that will mark the first step towards a generational investment in downtown Salt Lake City. Salt Lake City leaders and SEG executives aim to finalize the Agreement and transmit it to the City Council early next week," the statement said.

"Due to next week’s holiday and to give Council Members and the public ample opportunity to review the details ahead of a potential endorsement, we anticipate the Agreement discussion to occur on July 2 and a possible vote related to the agreement to occur on July 9."

Salt Lake City Council Chair Victoria Petro told FOX 13 News in a statement the council did not object to the delay.

"We welcome the additional time to review this crucial Agreement that will shape Salt Lake City for the next three decades and beyond. This extended period allows us to perform further due diligence on the proposal's terms, ensuring we are fully prepared and informed as we approach the voting process. As always, our commitment remains firm—to negotiate an agreement that ensures secure, predictable, and lasting benefits that will significantly enhance the quality of life in our beloved city," Petro said.

To help lure a National Hockey League team to town, the Utah State Legislature authorized Salt Lake City to enact a .5% sales tax increase citywide to help pay for major renovations to the area around the Delta Center and create a "sports, entertainment and arts" district downtown. Such a proposal could cost billions that Utah Jazz owners Ryan and Ashley Smith (the owners of the Utah Hockey Club) have pledged.

The Smith Entertainment Group is proposing to take $900 million to remodel the Delta Center to accommodate both the Utah Hockey Club and the Utah Jazz. But the Delta Center would then be a funnel toward the rest of the downtown district, where discussions with the International Olympic Committee are under way about making the district the new Medals Plaza. SEG committed it would invest about $3 billion of its own money into it all.

The plans were accelerated when the Smiths inherited the former Arizona Coyotes team. While it is viewed as an economic boost for downtown, it's also been controversial. Supporters of the Utah Symphony have raised concerns that Abravanel Hall could be bulldozed. The aging facility needs hundreds of millions of dollars in fixes. Reacting to public pushback, Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson said she preferred that Abravanel Hall stay where it is.

In an interview with FOX 13 News, the head of the Utah State Tax Commission warned that too many development deals the legislature has handed out in recent years (Major League Baseball, the Utah Hockey Club, the inland port, Point of the Mountain, etc.) risks eroding Utah's tax base. Governor Spencer Cox told reporters he disagrees with that assessment.

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